The third anniversary of the Elk River chemical spill came and went at the beginning of January. Though the chemical spill occurred over three years ago, advocates remember clearly how more than 300,000 West Virginia citizens were left without usable drinking water for over a week.
The chemical leak started at Freedom Industries, located just beyond Charleston. The spill created a serious need for new legislation, which is exactly what the West Virginia Legislature did. The legislature passed a bill that required 125 public water facilities across the state to create new water source protection procedures.
The new plans included updated lists of potential sources of contamination, as well as new procedures for responding to imminent spills. In addition, public water systems were required to identify alternative water intakes so that in the event of contamination from one source, another could be used. These preventative measures will ensure that customers will still be getting clean water in the event of a spill.
Approximately 16,000 chemical spills occur every year when materials are being transferred to trains, trucks, and storage tanks. Evan Hansen, an advisor to the WV Rivers Water Policy Workgroup, explained that the biggest challenge now is implementing the new laws that have been written.
Hansen said that some of the newly written laws will “require changes to the state code or the state rules,” which is placing some strain on getting the job done. This is one of the major issues behind advocates’ work.
Citizen organizations and environmental advocates gathered on the spill’s anniversary and explained that while the state has made progress, it needs to maintain its keen focus on providing clean, safe water to its citizens.
Angie Rosser, executive director of the Rivers Coalition, said that the groups wanted “to send a message that we still care, we’re still paying attention to the protection of our water.” Hansen was also among the people attending. He noted that there is still much work to be done, citing the specific updates that need to be implemented in the legislature.