UPDATE 1/16/14 @ 4:10 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- West Virginia lawmakers are moving quickly to strengthen regulations on above ground storage tanks like the one that failed at Freedom Industries last week.
Senate Majority Leader John Unger (D-Berkeley County) introduced legislation Thursday that will require the Department of Environmental Protection to inspect above ground storage tanks that hold any liquid except for water.
The DEP currently inspects underground tanks, but they don't have the authority to inspect above ground ones.
The legislation amends the Statewide Resource Protection and Management Act.
Unger says the disaster is a wakeup call and now is the time to make the state safer.
"The problem in the Kanawha Valley was that we had a chemical spill at a facility that hadn't been registered and there was very little inspection. There is very little regulation in this area, so this will close that loophole, so that we know exactly what's out there, where storage facilities are located and do inspections to make sure the facilities are such that, that they're not breached and we can protect people's water so it doesn't spill into people's drinking water, " Unger said.
Unger says the bill will help protect ground and surface water in the future, across the state.
"If it could happen here, it could happen anywhere in West Virginia. So what we want to do is put provisions in place to protect our water resources all throughout the state, so what happened here will not happen again anywhere in West Virginia," Unger said.
He hopes the legislation gets a quick approval and is on Governor Earl Ray Tomblin's desk as soon as possible.
Shortly after an explosion killed two people at the Bayer Crop Science plant in 2008, the Chemical Safety Board recommended that state health officials create a chemical release prevention plan and an independent oversight system of chemical companies.
Now, as the Chemical Safety Board investigates the site where the leak began in Charleston, West Virginia, Senate Majority Leader John Unger tells WSAZ.com he’s hoping to push a bill through both chambers of the legislature quickly. Senate Bill 373, an amendment to the state’s current Water Resource Protection Act, is set to be introduced Thursday.
“Looking at these above-ground storage facilities of any type of liquid, except for water, that they would have to register and also have regular inspections,” Unger said. “We don't have any idea what's upstream, in regards to any other types of above-ground facilities that could be holding another type of chemical that could be breached and also have a spill or leakage into the water system.”
Currently, the Department of Environmental Protection, or D.E.P., inspects and regulates underground storage tanks but does not have the authority to inspect above-ground tanks. S.B. 373 would change that. Unger said that while he wants to expedite the bill, he also wants to make sure lawmakers take the time to do proper work.
“We have to balance the urgency of getting out there and do risk assessments of what's upstream, with the idea that we're developing a whole new process in which we are going to inspect these facilities,” Unger said.
Unger also noted that this could affect economic development in West Virginia, either by making companies reluctant to build new plants near possible pollution or by forcing existing ones to reconsider their locations.
“How many companies would be looking at West Virginia right now, particularly big manufacturing companies, that need to use large quantities of water?” Unger said. “Who would want to move in where there could be a potential pollutant of a chemical that could enter into their processing plant?”
He added, “What we've been through here has been a wake-up call. It could have been far worse. It was horrible, but it could have been far worse. Now it's up to us, now that we've lived through it, now that we've moved forward, we've got to learn the lessons to make sure it never happens again.”
Chemical Safety Board investigators are now touring the site and inspecting damage and evidence. Amy McCormick with the C.S.B. told WSAZ.com that investigators began interviewing witnesses on Thursday, trying to figure out what caused the leak and how long it took to report the leak to the public. The team has also requested documents from Freedom Industries about equipment maintenance and safety procedures.
Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.