For three years, West Virginia failed to proceed with a proposed plan to prevent hazardous chemical accidents in Kanawha Valley, where a January 9th chemical spill into the Elk River contaminated the water supply of 300,000 West Virginians in a nine counties, leaving them without usable water.
After an 2008 explosion and fire killed two workers at the Bayer CropScience plant, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) recommended a plan to reduce the danger at plants that manufacture, use, and store chemicals, the Charleston Gazette reports. But the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources failed to provided the legal authority to the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department to start such a program, and county officials never funded the plan.
Now, as water restrictions are gradually being lifted in Charleston and surrounding counties, officials are calling for the plan to be into action. The CSB recommended the “Hazardous Chemical Release Prevention Program” after an extensive investigation of the Bayer explosion and the board repeated the proposal in 2011 after the death of a worker at a DuPont plant. The CSB modeled the plan on a successful chemical safety law enacted in Contra Costa County, California, according to the Gazette (www.wvgazette.com). The plan requires companies involved with chemicals to submit safety plans, to institute regular government safety audits, and to give the public greater say in monitoring safety performance of local companies. CSB officials have noted that federal inspections at local chemical plants are rare and that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has never inspected the Freedom Industries location responsible last week’s chemical spill. Local officials had not been to the site since1991, when it was under different ownership.
The ban on water use has kept numerous businesses closed since the spill, and on January 10, some of the affected business owners filed a class action lawsuit against Freedom Industries and the West Virginia American Water Company. The suit alleges that not only were they not notified of the spill until hours after it was reported but also that the companies were not adequately prepared to deal with the crisis. Parker Waichman LLP is among the law firms representing affected businesses. Additional information may be obtained by calling, toll free, 1-800-BIG-SPILL (1-800-244-7745).