CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A Jefferson County lawmaker plans to introduce a bill that incorporates safety guidelines the U.S. Chemical Safety Board recommended years ago.
Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, said he believes the recommendations could prevent emergencies like the recent spill that left 300,000 West Virginians without safe drinking water. The Chemical Safety Board and the Kanawha County Commission agree.
"How can we in West Virginia address the kind of concerns that we should have had after Bhopal?" Skinner said Friday morning.
"And quite frankly, I don't know that we've done that today because people have poisoned our water system. How have we addressed it?"
Skinner was referencing a 1984 gas leak at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, that instantly killed more than 2,000 people.
The CSB references the tragedy - and the fact the only spot in the United States where the chemical is stored is Institute - in reports concerning two previous investigations of deadly chemical events in the Kanawha Valley.
After investigating a 2008 explosion at Bayer CropScience in Institute and a 2010 leak at the DuPont facility in Belle, the CSB recommended a series of changes for the local and state levels.
One of the key recommendations was to give the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department the authority to establish a Hazardous Chemical Release Prevention Program.
The CSB is again in Charleston, arriving a few days after the MCHM leak at Freedom Industries that resulted in drinking water contamination. It's one of many agencies investigating the leak.
In a presentation before a state legislative committee recently, CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso pointed out lawmakers have largely ignored recommendations made after the agency's last two investigations in the area.
"We contact them and say, 'This is what we recommend' and we write letters to them and say, 'What are your actions about this,' " Moure-Eraso told the Charleston Gazette.
Similar to the CSB recommendations made after the Bayer and DuPont incidents, Skinner's bill will be "loosely based" on a hazardous safety material ordinance put in place in California's Contra Costa County.
Enacted in 1999, the ordinance requires facilities to provide detailed safety plans to local health officials.
In turn, those officials can audit the plans and periodically conduct safety assessments. Facilities pay a fee to the local health department to fund the program, according to the CSB.
"The report notes a significant decrease in the number of 'major chemical accidents and releases' at covered facilities, from 11 incidents in 2001 to zero incidents in 2009," states the CSB report on the Bayer CropSciences explosion, citing an audit of the California program.
In the past, state officials have rebuffed such a plan, citing concerns of increased regulation and whether creating a local agency or program was the best option to help prevent chemical incidents.
However, local officials have continued to be adamant about implementing the CSB's recommendations.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, Kanawha-Charleston Health Department director, and Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper have spoken in favor of creating a hazardous chemical prevention program.
In 2011, Gupta and Carper both made statements supporting such a program, but the necessary bills never made it through the state Legislature.
Both are again pushing for the creation of the program.
At a town hall meeting sponsored by WCHS-TV last week, Gupta said he has repeatedly sent communications to the state Department of Health and Human Resources and to local legislators over the past few years supporting the creation of a Hazardous Chemical Release Prevention Program.
"I call this a preventable crisis," Gupta said last week of the Freedom Industries leak. "Those recommendations were evidence-based."