CHARLESTON, WV -- Lawmakers worked late into the night Wednesday debating a variety of potential changes to the bill crafted in response to last month's Freedom Industries chemical spill.
The House Health and Human Resources Committee adopted several amendments to the bill during a four-hour meeting before finally passing it.
Committee chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, said crafting the measure has been the hardest thing he and his colleagues have had to do during his time in the Legislature.
Within days of discovering the spill on Jan. 9, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and state Senate leaders both created bills regulating aboveground storage tanks and outlining extra emergency preparedness and response guidelines.
Senate lawmakers decided to take some of Tomblin's proposals and insert them into their bill before passing it and sending it to the House two weeks ago.
The House Health Committee held a public hearing and heard several presentations from local, state and national officials last week before taking the bill up Wednesday evening.
As often happens, the committee used a "strike-and-insert" amendment to modify large portions and add more sections.
Among the changes, the committee brought back the "zone of critical concern" concept.
Under the change, the state Department of Environmental Protection must inspect aboveground storage tanks located within 25 miles upstream and a quarter-mile downstream from a public water intake.
The zone also includes land extending laterally 1,000 feet along each bank of the body of water along which the intake sits.
The DEP must also inventory all potential contaminants — not just storage tanks — within that zone.
The state Bureau of Public Health can increase or decrease the area within a zone, depending on what is found in a new surface water protection assessment.
Though it was discussed, an amendment to add a medical monitoring program for areas affected by the chemical spill failed to pass.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, head of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, reiterated his position that monitoring is vital to understanding the potential effects the chemicals had on the community.
The more time that passes before monitoring, the more likely bias or memory issues could change the accuracy of the program, Gupta said.
Other new health aspects of the bill include allowing the state Bureau for Public Health to levy substantially larger fees for violations of rules, from $50 to as much as $5,000 in some cases.
Although already outlined in federal code, the bill makes clear that the state bureau has authority over public water utility sources.
Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, amended the bill to require government officials to notify the public within 30 minutes of an emergency like the recent chemical spill.