CHARLESTON, WV -- State officials knew the water treatment plant recently overwhelmed by a chemical leak from Freedom Industries was at high risk for contamination, state lawmakers were told Tuesday.
It was listed clearly in the Source Water Assessment and Protection Program report prepared by the state Bureau for Public Health for Kanawha County in 2002.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection also had authority to regularly inspect the site of the leak through a stormwater permit it issued.
This is evidence there is plenty of information readily available to prevent future spills, Evan Hansen, president of environmental consulting service Downstream Strategies told lawmakers Tuesday afternoon.
But Hansen said it would take a commitment on the part of the state to act on this information.
"We have all the tools in place, it's simply been a lack of will at the DEP to use the tools that they already have," Hansen said.
"That's why I think it's so important to fix what we already have and not create an entirely new regulatory scheme."
Hansen presented Downstream Strategies' take on the spill and recommended law changes Tuesday afternoon during an informational legislative meeting. Hansen's company is also offering private water testing — for a fee — to people in the area affected by the spill.
Hansen's recommendations include creating protection plans — an effort he said is going to require time and money from the state. His company is one that can craft such plans, he said.
Mike Dorsey, an official with the DEP who has worked on cleanup efforts at the leak site also briefed lawmakers on the situation.
Dorsey, who specified he has no involvement in the DEP's legislative deliberations, said remediation at the site is going well.
Latest efforts indicate about 6,251 gallons of crude MCHM leaked out of a hole in a storage tank on the morning of Jan. 9. That's revised downward from the 7,500-gallon amount Dorsey estimated previously.
After leaking from the tank, an unknown amount of the chemical then seeped through an "ancient" concrete wall and into the Elk River, Dorsey said.
The chemical eventually contaminated the water used by the West Virginia American Water Co. Charleston treatment plant to supply its 1,700-mile pipeline network, leading to a do-not-use advisory for 300,000 people and plenty of questions about regulations.
Hansen said he understands there could be a need for more regulation — specifically for aboveground storage tanks. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin proposed a bill Monday creating a regulatory system for such tanks, as well as other emergency planning procedures.
State Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, has also introduced a Senate bill calling for additional aboveground tank regulations.
However, Hansen said he thinks creating a new system could divert attention from the fact the state DEP already has the authority and ability to inspect sites like the one Freedom has along the Elk River.
The situation is more about political will, Hansen said.