Dozens speak at legislative hearing on water bill

Charleston Gazette photo by Lawrence Pierce Rebecca Roth, of Charleston, holds her daughter, Lucy Boettner, while waiting to speak at a public hearing about a bill concerning above-ground storage tanks.
Charleston Gazette photo by Lawrence Pierce Rebecca Roth, of Charleston, holds her daughter, Lucy Boettner, while waiting to speak at a public hearing about a bill concerning above-ground storage tanks.
Charleston Gazette photo by Lawrence Pierce
Rebecca Roth, of Charleston, holds her daughter, Lucy Boettner, while waiting to speak at a public hearing about a bill concerning above-ground storage tanks.

By Eric Eyre

Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginians want answers about the Jan. 9 chemical spill, and they want action.

At a two-hour public hearing Monday night, speakers urged state lawmakers to monitor long-term health effects caused by the chemical leak that contaminated the water of more than 300,000 people in nine counties.

“We still don’t know,” said Maya Nye, who heads a citizen group called People Concerned About Chemical Safety. “We still don’t have a lot of answers.”

Speakers also called on legislators to strengthen a bill designed to regulate aboveground chemical storage tanks like the Freedom Industries tank that leaked the coal-cleaning chemical, crude MCHM, into the Elk River last month.

“Please, no loopholes, no exclusions,” Eleanor Spohr, of Charleston, said.

Residents fumed that about half of the members of the House of Delegates didn’t attend — or left early — Monday night’s hearing in the House chamber. Speakers alleged that West Virginia politicians have fostered “a culture of non-inspections and non-enforcement” of environmental regulations.

“It is clear that the public has been failed on so many levels,” said Laura Thaw, who lives in the Fort Hill community of Charleston. “The citizens of West Virginia deserve better than this. The time for change is today.”

The legislation would require chemical storage tanks be registered and inspected annually. Under the bill, industry-hired engineers would inspect most tanks. Inspectors with the state Department of Environmental Protection would review storage tanks located fewer than 25 miles upstream from a water treatment facility…

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