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Thread: What is to prevent the WV chemical spill from happening again?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian terraplnr's avatar
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    What is to prevent the WV chemical spill from happening again?

    “West Virginia chemical spill poses unknown threat to the environment”… and to humans, I might add…

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/n...ors_picks=true

    (P.S. This article implies that all of the affected residents are allowed to turn back on their taps, but only a small portion have been authorized to do so, so far.)


    This chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, was grandfathered in under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act since it was already in existence at that time. Per Wikipedia, “Though tasked with protecting the public from dangerous and potentially carcinogenic substances, some 62,000 chemicals were never tested by the EPA because they were not considered an "unreasonable risk." This gap in testing effectively grandfathered these chemicals into the TSCAs existing chemicals list. Testing and research on these chemicals is virtually non-existent, with only 200 of the more than 60,000 existing chemicals tested directly by the EPA.”

    Other news articles have stated that the only permit that Freedom Industries was required to have, in order to store this chemical next to a waterway used for drinking water, was a stormwater permit.

    http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/13/us/wes...contamination/


    No dead fish were found in the Elk River the day after the spill (http://wvmetronews.com/2014/01/10/dn...-in-elk-river/), possibly due to the chemical floating along the top of the water vs. the fish swimming at the bottom this time of year. So, that’s a good thing.

    However, what is in existence to prevent this kind of event from happening again, with one of the other 62,000 grandfathered chemicals? I know a lot of people in the U.S. don’t even know where West Virginia is (it’s just the western part of Virginia, right?), and think that all those hillbillies don’t need to brush their nonexistent teeth anyway. But what if this had happened in a place that the national media cares more about? And it makes me wonder what the restrictions are here in California, which is known for its environmental regulations.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian terraplnr's avatar
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    "West Virginia Spill Reveals Threats to Drinking Water"

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/n...ors_picks=true


    "Are there any lessons we can learn from the recent chemical spill and resulting drinking water ban in West Virginia?

    I have no doubt there are lessons we might learn. It's probably too early to know what those are, and we need to know more about what happened. But one thing is that the chemical involved was not listed as hazardous waste by the EPA or the state, and that would appear to be wrong in hindsight. Had it been listed as hazardous waste, a number of federal and state laws would have come into play, specifying things like how quickly, and to whom, notifications have to be made; how quickly a leak has to be contained; and how monitoring is handled."


    "West Virginia American Water said that they had not been testing for MCMH before the spill because it is rare and because they can't afford to test for every single chemical. Is there work being done to start doing that?

    This gets into an interesting area: How much do customers want to spend for things that are a theoretical risk, and may be a very small theoretical risk? Utilities are required to constantly test for 91 parameters, according to the Safe Drinking Water Act, which is regulated by the EPA.

    That includes lots of things that are known to be in water and are known to be harmful, like bacteria and byproducts of disinfection. Utilities are required to disinfect with chlorine or ozone, and those chemicals can react with things naturally in water to produce byproducts, so they test for that.

    Utilities may not have to test for something that has never been in their water and for which they have no reason to believe that it is. For example, there is a herbicide that is only used for growing pineapples. They test for it in Hawaii and California, but they don't need to test for that in West Virginia because no one is growing pineapples there.

    There are about 50,000 chemicals in commercial use in the U.S. in some quantity. At some cost, I suppose you could design a testing scheme for all of those, but it would be extraordinarily expensive and you would be testing for lots of things that aren't there. A test can cost up to a couple hundred dollars for one sample for one chemical.

    You do want to err on the side of protecting public health, but you don't want to give people very high water bills."

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    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by terraplnr View post
    ...
    However, what is in existence to prevent this kind of event from happening again, with one of the other 62,000 grandfathered chemicals? I know a lot of people in the U.S. don’t even know where West Virginia is (it’s just the western part of Virginia, right?), and think that all those hillbillies don’t need to brush their nonexistent teeth anyway. But what if this had happened in a place that the national media cares more about? And it makes me wonder what the restrictions are here in California, which is known for its environmental regulations.
    On one level, I think that places the national media cares about tend to be larger, denser, richer, and whiter (upper middle class white, mind you) than most areas that have heavy industry. On another, even when something bad does happen in those areas (think Hurricane Sandy) people move on and nothing really changes in the national narrative.

    Of course this will happen again, heavy industry usually requires a lot of water and barge transit. Nasty chemicals will always be upstream from someone and containment failure is always guaranteed to some level.

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    Cyburbian terraplnr's avatar
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    West Virginia has a long history of being at or near the bottom of the heap in terms of economic opportunities and output, so there has long been an “environmental protections hurt our precious few good-paying jobs” mentality, it is unfortunate and sad. Mining has done a lot of damage to the state’s natural beauty and environmental heritage.

    As far as a spill occurring again, I’m sure it will. But the part that bothers me is that it is perfectly legal for a company to store so much of a chemical that so little is known about, so close to a waterway that provides drinking water to thousands of people. And it’s not just this one chemical, it’s thousands of them that we know very little about.

    This is not a new topic… I know… chemicals are used everywhere and we often don’t have enough information on their potential health, safety, and environmental effects. But it’ll be interesting to see how this changes the course of the economic vs. environment discussion in the state (I have some hope).



    "West Virginia Spill Exposes Disturbing Lack of Data about Hazardous Chemicals"
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/0...n_4598346.html

    Finding out how many major chemical facilities there are and the quantities of any chemicals they store is hard, said Maya Nye, spokesperson for the citizen group People Concerned About Chemical Safety.

    Nye has advocated for tougher chemical oversight and transparency rules in the state for years, following two previous incidents: an August 2008 explosion at a Bayer CropScience plant that killed two workers and a January 2010 toxic release at a DuPont facility that killed one person. But the state failed to put in place tougher rules, even after the U.S. Chemical Safety Board recommended them, the Gazette reported.

    To find out how many chemical facilities with "extremely hazardous" substances -- that is, those deemed more dangerous than the merely "hazardous" MCHM -- were located in her area, Nye had to go to the EPA's reading room in Washington, D.C., and take handwritten notes on all the risk management plans filed for the region. Photocopying and photographs were not allowed.

    Many of the area facilities that reported extremely hazardous chemicals "were not on my radar," said Nye. Even for the ones that were, she was surprised by the volumes stored on site. "I was not aware of the amount of danger we were in," she said.

    The two previous chemical incidents did not, however, lead to changes in state laws regarding chemical safety and public reporting. "I don’t think there's any major political interest in trying to more heavily regulate the coal or the chemical industry in our state, because they are huge economic engines," said Nye.

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    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by terraplnr View post
    However, what is in existence to prevent this kind of event from happening again, with one of the other 62,000 grandfathered chemicals? I know a lot of people in the U.S. don’t even know where West Virginia is (it’s just the western part of Virginia, right?), and think that all those hillbillies don’t need to brush their nonexistent teeth anyway. But what if this had happened in a place that the national media cares more about? And it makes me wonder what the restrictions are here in California, which is known for its environmental regulations.
    IMHO simply another indicator we're creeping toward complete plutocracy. Corporation hasn't shown remorse, sent out trucks full of water, wife whining on FB about persecution, etc. That's all you need to know: they think they're golden.

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    Cyburbian
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    Community Right to Know is something that involves planners. LEPCs should function and reporting should have compliance requirements.

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    Cyburbian Plus
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    Quote Originally posted by jwhitty View post
    Community Right to Know is something that involves planners. LEPCs should function and reporting should have compliance requirements.
    I post about this
    http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showt...highlight=lepc

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