Dr. Dorothy Vesper, co-investigator for PROTECT Project 3, recently provided expert testimony to the West Virginia House Energy and Manufacturing Committee, during discussion on a new bill that would provide additional exemptions to certain sites covered by the 2014 Aboveground Storage Tank Act. Currently, above-ground tanks containing water and oil byproducts are required to undergo annual inspections and meet certain maintenance requirements. The proposed law would provide exemptions to 887 small capacity tanks located within five miles of drinking water intake sites.
The Aboveground Storage Tank Act was passed following a 2014 chemical spill in the Elk River from a site just 1.5 miles from the drinking water source. The site was unregulated and had not been inspected since 1991. More than 300,000 people were instructed not to use their water to drink, bathe, cook, or wash their things, and a few people were hospitalized following the incident. The Aboveground Storage Tank Act instituted new requirements and inspections to ensure that all sites were accounted for and plans were in place to prevent contamination.
Since then, lawmakers have already exempted oil and gas byproduct sites located more than five miles from a drinking water intake site from the new regulations. These byproduct sites typically contain brine water, which may be contaminated with benzene and radium in addition to oil.
During her testimony, Dr. Vesper discussed the types of contaminants that are present in these tanks and which of those were regulated in drinking water due to public health concerns. She also discussed the solubility of the compounds and how, even if the crude oil floated on the water’s surface, the underlying water could still dissolve the compounds and become contaminated.
According to WV state delegate Evan Hansen, the Energy and Manufacturing Committee recommitted the bill to the Health Committee for further discussion before proceeding for a vote.
The Freedom Industries plant, source of the Elk River chemical spill (Tom Hindman/Getty Images)