Monday, August 18, 2014

For years W.Va. American Water put off review of watershed where chemical leak occurred

Eight years before the January chemical spill that dumped thousands of gallons of a coal-cleaning chemical into a major regional water supply in West Virginia, officials from West Virginia American Water Co. "told state regulators they were planning to review the Elk River watershed to find out what potential contamination sources were upstream from their Kanawha Valley water treatment plant," Ken Ward reports for the Charleston Gazette. The review was never completed.

That meant that when the leak occurred, "West Virginia American officials knew next to nothing about the material that had contaminated the source of drinking water for 300,000 people across the region," Ward writes. In fact, lawyers for the agency said they had to obtain information about the leak via the Internet and through requests to the Bureau for Public Health and Freedom.

The information was disclosed "as part of a commission investigation into West Virginia American’s response to the Jan. 9 leak and the water crisis that followed," Ward writes. "West Virginia American and the other parties are embroiled in a dispute over what sorts of documents the water company should have to turn over to those other parties, and the outcome of the matter likely will decide just how broad of an investigation the PSC ends up doing. Water company lawyers want a narrow review that considers only what the company did or didn’t do after Jan. 9. Consumer advocates, business intervenors and citizens want a broader probe that examines what kind of planning West Virginia American did — or didn’t do — to prepare for an incident like the Freedom leak."

"Anthony Majestro, a lawyer for local businesses that intervened in the PSC case, said understanding what sort of emergency plans the company had is critical," Ward writes. Majestro said, “Had a plan been in place, in compliance with industry standards, WVAWC should not have lost critical minutes and hours while it fumbled through the identification of the chemical, how to treat it, what to tell the public, and whether to close the intake or not." (Read more)

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