The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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February 13, 2014

House committee studies details of above-ground storage tanks bill

CHARLESTON — The triple-referenced bill that is proposed to regulate above-ground storage tanks was heavily scrutinized in the House Committee on Health and Human Resources Wednesday night, as the members wrangled with the substance of the bill on the issues of local contingency plans, medical monitoring and potential threats to water systems.

Most of the contingency plan discussion centered around secondary intakes or another plan for an alternate water source. Committee members said they were concerned with small water systems’ ability to pay for the construction of a secondary water intake and the availability of a location for such an intake.

Delegate Barbara Fleischauer

D-Monongahela said she didn’t think it was a practical way for the committee to proceed, and that more control should be given to local agencies to involve the public.

Fleischauer said she thought a better idea was to make sure local agencies were funded for the planning phase.

Delegates from Kanawha County disagreed with her analysis, pointing out that the bill would address the entire state, and that alternate sources are necessary to ensure that residents don’t lose access to their tap water.

Delegate Patrick Lane R-Kanawha, a self-described “financial hawk” said the bill does not require secondary sources or storage, only that local planners discuss how to make sure customers have clean water if their public supply is compromised.

An attorney for the West Virginia Public Service Commission said of the more than 300 systems in the state, the financial status ranges from “very poor to decent.” Two of those systems are in receivership, he said, but could not say how many fall into distressed status.

The committee passed an amendment to require that local systems have a secondary intake or up to three days of storage on a split voice vote.

 Kanawha Charleston Health Department director Dr. Rahul Gupta told the committee that medical monitoring would “provide an aspect of healing in the community and scientific data on the effects of the chemical compound MCHM, which was spilled into the Elk River last month.

“It’s hard to form a playbook,” Gupta said, “because the chemical has never been studied from a human aspect.” The doctor said he thought the number of patients who reported to medical facilities with symptoms from contact with MCHM was “the tip of the iceberg.” Gupta said some people “toughed it out” without seeing a physician.

“Often things look benign when you are in the fog of war,” he said.

Gupta said long-term studies should be done to provide guidance for people with liver disease or kidney disease.

The amendment was divided and the health department screening did not pass.

The bill defines an area called the “zone of critical concern,” which would document potential threats to water systems. Initially, the zones would be 25 miles both up- and down-stream from a public water intake. Any contaminant in the zone would have to be documented with the Department of Natural Resources and reported to the Bureau of Public Health. The documentation would be public record.

The committee was still considering amendments to the bill at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

— E-mail: ppritt@register-herald.com

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