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Delegates Advance Water Legislation after Debating 50 Amendments

West Virginia Legislative Services

Members of the House Judiciary Committee spent more than 9 hours debating and discussing 50 amendments to Senate Bill 373 Sunday into Monday.

The bill is meant to regulate above ground storage tanks and protect the state’s water resources in response to the January 9 chemical spill at Freedom Industries in Charleston that resulted in the contamination of 300,000 West Virginians’ drinking water.

The amendments adopted included one from Delegate Meshea Poore of Kanawha County directing the Commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health to create and conduct through emergency rule a long term study of the health effects of human exposure to MCHM, a chemical which has never been studied on humans before.

“It’s very necessary that we track it,” Poore said. “This is 300,000 people that have actually been exposed and we need to be able to help get the characteristics of this chemical.”

The amendment dictates the Commissioner will prescribe a study specifically on the effects of the January 9 spill of MCHM into the Kanawha River, but how the study will be carried out and for how long is left to the Commissioner to determine under the guidance of other health officials.

The bill also does not specify where funding for the monitoring will come from, but Poore said she anticipates much of it can be paid for with anticipated federal funds.

Also adopted was an amendment contained in previous version of the bill preventing the exact locations of chemicals located upstream from a public water intake from being disclosed to the public.

The section states the locations of chemicals would be known to the public water utility or a designee. In the event of a chemical release or spill, the information would be immediately released to the necessary emergency responders and pertinent information to the public.

The committee’s counsel said the public would still have access to the direct threats located upstream, but not the exact distances from the intake location. The public would also still have the ability to file a Freedom of Information Act request with a specific location to gain information about a specific chemical that may be stored on site.

Members of the committee moved the amended version of the bill in the very early hours of Monday morning.

Senate Bill 373 as amended now makes its way to the House Committee on Finance.

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