Spill another eye-opener for public water safety

An editorial from The Journal

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — As you read this sentence, a 10,000-gallon plume of chemicals is floating down the Potomac River toward municipal water intakes near you.

After the January 2014 chemical spill that dumped a similarly large amount of a chemical foaming agent into Charleston’s water supply, West Virginia enacted sweeping legislation – some argued too-sweeping – to make sure any and every tank that could conceivably hold a potentially dangerous fluid was analyzed top to bottom.

But now we recognize the possible danger coming from our neighbors to the north as well.

A latex chemical that spilled from the Verso paper mill in rural Allegany County, Maryland last week is creeping our way. It’s expected to hit Berkeley County’s intake a week from today, and Shepherdstown and Harpers Ferry later next week. Out in western Morgan County, Paw Paw was hit by the chemical wave Monday and is now using its reserve water supply.

Thank goodness, the agencies all have contingency plans – as well as a major element of public safety Charleston wasn’t afforded: Time to prepare. The miles and miles of water between the spill and our intakes should also work to dilute the chemical exponentially.

While local officials say this event does not seem to pose any major health concerns, the fact that it can happen at all is concerning enough. After all the back and forth West Virginians have gone through regarding water safety in the past year and a half, the realization that something devastating can still happen outside of our control is eye-opening.

First and foremost, we hope this event is nothing more than a learning experience – an opportunity to practice procedures for a next time that might not be so harmless. But as we are facing a future in which even the rain is being taxed in the attempt to protect our environment, we also hope that any facilities that use chemicals – no matter what they are, and no matter on which side of the Potomac they reside – are held under the same stringent rules and regulations.

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