UPDATE: W.Va. House Passes Medical Monitoring Bill

By: The Associated Press Email
By: The Associated Press Email

UPDATE 3/6/14 @ 5:45 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Late Wednesday night, the West Virginia House of Delegates approved Senate Bill 373. In that legislation is an amendment which would require the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health to study any potential long-term health effects of the chemical spill.

It's been nearly two months since the water crisis first hit Charleston. It eventually affected nine counties and some 300,000 people. Now, elected officials in Charleston are working to make sure health officials follow up on any potential health effects.

"That was 300,000 West Virginia citizens that were exposed to a chemical that has no history as to what the side effects would be to a human," Kanawha County Delegate Meshea Poore said. "We really need to be responsible as a body, as a state to make sure that we are protecting these people and collecting information. That's all were asking. Collect the information so if there's some future things that need to be done that we've done our due diligence as a state."

Kanawha-Charleston Health Department Director Dr. Rahul Gupta was one of the first to call for medical monitoring following the spill. He says he's hopeful the proposed legislation will actually become law.

"I really feel that it's a responsibility," Dr. Gupta said. "It's an obligation of our executives to understand that these people were impacted. These people were exposed to a chemical that was not by their choosing."

"It's going to be something that tests the character of our state, and its ability to respond to a crisis situation for 300,000 people," Gupta said.

The bill is now in the Senate, which will compare its version of the legislation to the House's. WSAZ.com has learned the two versions are very different. That most certainly means there will be some negotiating.

Funding for the health study is one of the biggest issues. The House's version of the bill would require the Bureau for Public Health to look for ways to fund the study, but the wording allows it to not even do the study if it can't find the funding.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources released the following statement regarding medical monitoring following the chemical spills:
"DHHR fully supports the premise of long-term medical monitoring, as the health and well-being of our residents are very important to me," DHHR Cabinet Secretary Karen L. Bowling said. "The need to create a comprehensive review is evident as we have received anecdotal information that may be important as research begins to design studies for future population surveillance and medical monitoring."

UPDATE 3/3/14 @ 10 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A bill strengthening chemical spill safeguards for storage facilities and public water companies is headed to the House of Delegates floor.

The amended proposal responding to the Jan. 9 Freedom Industries spill passed the House Finance Committee on Monday.

Under the bill, most aboveground tanks holding more than 1,320 gallons would face yearly inspections. About 150 public water systems would have to spell out protection plans.

The committee also stripped a requirement that West Virginia American Water implement an early warning monitoring system. The company said it could have cost millions of dollars.

The bill also no longer requires a long-term health monitoring program.

The proposal hits the House floor Tuesday and likely will get a vote Wednesday. The Senate and House would need to compromise on the final bill.

ORIGINAL STORY 3/3/14 @ 12:29 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A legislative panel is pushing for long-term health monitoring for 300,000 West Virginians whose water was tainted by a January chemical spill.

The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee added the monitoring amendment to a regulatory bill for aboveground storage tanks.

The committee passed the bill after considering about 60 amendments over nine hours Sunday through Monday.

The amendment doesn't specify how to pay for monitoring. Senate Majority Leader John Unger has suggested using $10 million in reserves for a 10-year program.

The bill further regulates many aboveground tanks holding more than 1,320 gallons. It requires 150 public water systems to craft protection plans.

By Saturday, the bill has to pass another committee and the House. The Senate has to approve changes.

The spill contaminated residents' drinking water for days.

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