CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, on Jan. 21, announced his proposed legislation to give state government more clout in inspecting facilities like the one responsible for the recent chemical leak that left some 300,000 people in Kanawha County and the surrounding region without safe drinking water.
Unfortunately, the state is unable to use more than $500,000 currently in a fund created for emergency situations involving hazardous waste to help cover the costs related to the Jan. 9 incident. Secretary Randy Huffman of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection said the reason is the chemical involved in the leak doesn’t meet criteria outlined for using money from the Hazardous Waste Emergency Response Fund.
Delegate Michael Manypenny, D-Taylor, joined several citizens of Charleston as well as some business owners there in a federal lawsuit filed Monday, Jan.13 relating to that chemical leak that contaminated water in Charleston and several surrounding counties.
In the suit, Manypenny said he was exposed to the contaminated water by being in Charleston while the Legislature was in session. It not only names Freedom Industries and West Virginia American Water Corporation but adds the chemical’s manufacturer Eastman Chemical Co. and Freedom President Gary Southern as defendants.
It is the second federal lawsuit filed related to the Jan. 9 leak of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol at Freedom’s Industries’ property into the Elk River. The chemical then made its way into the West Virginia American Water treatment facility that supplies water to nine counties.
Meanwhile, another effort to pass legislation that would require a prescription for allergy medicine containing pseudo ephedrine is underway with bills introduced in both the State Senate and the House of Delegates. Former State Sen. Dr. Dan Foster, who now chairs the Kanawha County Substance Abuse Task Force, told the editorial board of the Charleston Daily mail last week that this year is different from previous unsuccessful legislation.
“It exempts products that have a minimal capability of being converted into meth,” Dr. Foster said. “There are two now that are marketed here in local stores … that have been shown to be effective … but have limited capability of being made into meth and are not desirable at all by those folks who purchase pseudoephedrine to make meth.”
The legislation — Senate Bill 6 and House Bill 4170 — is admittedly controversial. Lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry have spoken out to oppose the legislation, but Foster said two other states have already enacted similar laws.
Sen. Greg Tucker, D-Nicholas, introduced SB6 and is one of several legislators who believe making pseudoephedrine prescription-only will reduce illegal meth production in West Virginia. Last year police seized more than 530 meth labs statewide — nearly twice as many as in 2012
Drug industry lobbyists claim the proposal to require prescriptions for some cold medications used to make illegal methamphetamine would inconvenience large numbers of West Virginia residents who need the decongestant.
However, supporters of the requirement for a prescription say that new drug sales data shows most West Virginia residents are not buying pseudoephedrine products such as Sudafed and Claritin-D. Mike Goff, an administrator at the state Board of Pharmacy, said a large percentage of folks “aren’t affected” and “for lobbyists to say its affecting all these customers … they can’t really say that with these numbers.”