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React to Coal Slurry Spill

February 15, 2014
By THE INTELLIGENCER , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Not again. That is what some West Virginians, remembering the disastrous Kanawha County chemical spill in January, may have been shaking their heads and saying this week.

Well, no, not again - not exactly. Close enough, however, that state legislators should be worried.

About 300,000 people had their public water service disrupted in January, when thousands of gallons of a hazardous chemical leaked into the Elk River at Charleston. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and legislators are moving quickly to address the problem, through regulations and inspections of chemical storage facilities.

Kanawha County was hit again Tuesday, when more than 100,000 gallons of coal slurry spilled from a coal preparation plant into a creek. Fortunately, the spill occurred downstream of local water system intakes in the Kanawha River.

Department of Environmental Protection head Randy Huffman said the spill had "significant, adverse environmental impact" to the creek, about six miles of which were blackened by the slurry.

Adding to his concern may have been a similarity between the two spills: The hazardous chemical involved in the January accident, MCHM, also was present in minute quantities in the slurry. Local and state officials were quick to say there should be no danger of water system contamination like that in January.

Still, the spill - along with a much worse one recently in North Carolina, involving about 1.1 billion gallons of slurry - should prompt Tomblin and legislators to launch a comprehensive investigation of threats to water quality. Remember, the bill lawmakers have before them now involves chemical storage.

Are rules and inspection provisions involving all potential threats to water quality adequate? Are they being enforced? What needs to change to convince West Virginians we don't need to stock supplies of bottled water in our homes?

The spill in January was a wake-up call. This week's slurry accident was an alarm clock, ringing loudly. Tomblin and legislators should be asking themselves whether the current water safety bill is enough to safeguard Mountain State residents.

 
 

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