Lawmakers are already asking themselves what they can do to prevent a chemical leak like the one on the Elk River from happening again in the future.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Senator John Unger chairs the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on State Water Resources. He is looking into the commission’s power to investigate the incident and propose regulations for the industry.
Senator Ron Stollings said environmental regulations will be key going forward, but, as chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources, he wants to investigate the health effects as well.
“This chemical, this methanol chemical, is something that we didn’t know much about,” he said after a Senate floor session Wednesday. “We need to learn more about the molecule itself and work with the federal people, the CDC, to try to find out more about it in general."
“Do we really need to be concerned or is this something that could just cause a little skin irritation?”
West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre said the raw water going into the Charleston treatment facility and treated water coming out were both testing at 0 parts per million. That means no chemical is being detected at the plant itself.
But in other areas where test results haven’t reached that number yet, Stollings said the public will have to trust that the Centers for Disease Control and county health departments know what level is safe for use and consumption.
“But at the same time, last night I was having dinner in a restaurant and I asked them if it was tap water or bottled water and I wanted bottled water. That’s just me,” he said. “But, again I think from the topical, the washing and things like that I feel much more reassured.”
“I’m not a public health doctor, I’m not trying to step on anybody’s toes,” Stollings added, “but I think Dr. Tierney from the Bureau of Public Health, I think she’s looking deeply into this. She’s very concerned as is everyone.”
Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman said at press conferences over the weekend the chemical should have no impact on animal life and no fish kill had been reported.
Stollings said knowing how it affects animals can give some insight into the effects on humans as well.
“We don’t know even the long term or short term effects on animals. I’m glad that there’s no acute toxicity, but I think these are things we have to look at, we have to study,” he said.
“We have to look at this chemical and frankly other chemicals that might be out there. If this is not a wake up call I don’t know what is.”
He is working with the Bureau for Public Health in Charleston and the school of Public Health in Morgantown to look into legislation or possible regulations on the chemical industry and its effects on public health.