Elk River Chemical Spill Exposes Need for More Regulations
Written by James P. Nevin
On January 9, 2014, 7,500 gallons of coal-cleaning chemicals seeped into the Elk River in Charleston, just 1.5 miles upstream from the region's water treatment plant. Freedom Industries, which owned the plant where the chemicals leaked from, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. "They're cowards, and running away and leaving the people is an outrage," Sen. Barbara Boxer said of Freedom Industries. "How about having some corporate responsibility?"
The site was not subject to state or federal environmental regulations, slipping between the cracks since the chemical that spilled is one of more than 80,000 substances not regulated under the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. Sen. David Vitter, RLa., is sponsoring bipartisan legislation to reform that law, but Boxer said the chemical involved in the West Virginia spill would have been classified as a low priority under that bill.
The general feeling is that patchwork federal regulations are inadequate to protect the public from chemical spills such as this which left West Virginia residents without water. "Americans have a right to expect, when they turn their tap on, the water they get is safe," said Sen. Ben Cardin, DMd., the subcommittee chairman. "Our laws are just not strong enough to deal with the current situation."
Though committee leaders are backing a bill to require states to inspect chemical facilities every three years at a minimum, others blame the spill on lack of enforcement saying there are enough regulations on the books already.