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Chemical Spill in West Virginia Offers Opportunity to Learn About and Improve Chemical Safety in America

By Maya Nye

On the early morning of January 9, a citizen complaining of a strong “black licorice” smell alerted officials to a chemical leak at the Freedom Industries site that seeped into West Virginia’s Elk River a mile and a half upstream of the state’s largest water intake.  It wasn’t until hours later that a ban was placed on water use for over 300,000 people across nine West Virginia counties.  Schools shut down. Hospitals cancelled non-essential surgeries.  Restaurants were forced to close leaving many people out of work.  The local economy nearly ground to a halt.

Untitled-1The chemical that leaked from the Freedom Industries site, crude 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM, is used in the processing of coal-fired energy production.  It is one of 62,000 chemicals that were grandfathered in under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), many of which can pose serious consequences for human health.

This is not a new issue in West Virginia: chemical contamination has been a concern in this area for a long time.  This 25-mile stretch of West Virginia’s Untitled-2Kanawha River has been nicknamed “chemical valley” for its chemical manufacturing industry.  In fact, many incidents in this valley over the years have served as the focal point for reform to national chemical safety and security policy, including a 1985 aldicarb oxime leak that led to national Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Laws and the implementation of the United States Chemical Safety Board.  In the wake of this latest spill, the communities around the Elk River in West Virginia also have an opportunity to spur action on chemical safety…

To read the final edited version of the blog post, click here:  http://blog.epa.gov/ej/2014/04/another-chemical-spill/

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Water Crisis Not Over After West Virginia Chemical Spill

by Meghna Chakrabarti, WBUR “Here And Now”

Freedom Industries, which spilled thousands of gallons of a coal-washing chemical into the Elk River, is pictured on January 10, 2014, in Charleston, West Virginia. (Tom Hindman/Getty Images)

It’s been called one of the most serious episodes of drinking water contamination in U.S. history. Four months after thousands of gallons of the coal-washing chemical MCHM spilled from an unregulated above-ground storage tank into the Elk River, many people in and around Charleston, West Virginia, are still using bottled water.

Water bans after the Jan. 9 spill lasted as long as nine days in some Charleston communities. But residents continue to report that the water smells like licorice and it has sent people to the emergency room. A recent article in The New Yorker that profiled the power of the coal industry in West Virginia called the spill an accident with no clear ending, with the most basic question — “Is the water safe?” — unanswered.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, who runs the Kanawha-Charleston and Putnam County health departments in Charleston, West Virginia, speaks with Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti about the ongoing water crisis.

To read more, go here:  http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2014/04/08/charleston-chemical-water

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The coal industry, the politicians, and the big spill.

BY , APRIL 7, 2014

  • When a chemical leaked at a facility in Charleston, West Virginia, lawmakers at the State Capitol were close enough to smell it.

When a chemical leaked at a facility in Charleston, West Virginia, lawmakers at the State Capitol were close enough to smell it. Photo Illustration by Spruce.

On the morning of Thursday, January 9, 2014, the people of Charleston, West Virginia, awoke to a strange tang in the air off the Elk River. It smelled like licorice. The occasional odor is part of life in Charleston, the state capital, which lies in an industrial area that takes flinty pride in the nickname Chemical Valley. In the nineteenth century, natural brine springs made the region one of America’s largest producers of salt. The saltworks gave rise to an industry that manufactured gunpowder, antifreeze, Agent Orange, and other “chemical magic,” as The Saturday Evening Post put it, in 1943. The image endured. Today, the Chemical Valley Roller Girls compete in Roller Derby events with a logo of a woman in fishnet stockings and a gas mask. After decades of slow decline, the local industry has revived in recent years, owing to the boom in cheap natural gas, which has made America one of the world’s most inexpensive places to make chemicals.

Read the full article here:  http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/04/07/140407fa_fact_osnos

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Over the next two weeks, the Women and Water Campaign will host two “Women and Water Listening Sessions.”  These sessions, happening on the heels of the WV Testing Assessment Project (WVTAP) Health Expert Panel and the recent debacle surrounding the dumping of MCHM in the Hurricane landfill, are an opportunity for women to come together to discuss concerns around the recent water crisis (otherwise known as the largest drinking water chemical contamination in U.S. history) and learn information about the possible effects on women’s health from chemical exposure.

The Thursday, April 3rd Listening Session, hosted by BMEEK Community Outreach Program Inc., will be held at First Baptist Church at 432 Shrewsbury Street in Charleston in the downstairs conference room.

The Thursday, April 10th Listening Session will be held at the Putnam County Courthouse, Committee Chambers at 3389 Winfield Road in Winfield.

Both sessions are free and open to all women and families.  They will be kicked off by a reception at 6:30pm and will run from 7:00 to 9:00pm.

The Women and Water Campaign, a WVFREE project, was developed in response to the Elk River chemical spill when women’s health concerns began to emerge.  Information captured from these sessions will be compiled in a report to assist decision and policy makers with recommendations supporting women’s environmental health moving forward.

“Women & Water Listening Sessions” are co-sponsored by WVFREE’s Women and Water Campaign, People Concerned About Chemical Safety, West Virginia Citizens Actively Protecting the Environment, West Virginia Citizen Action Group, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and the West Virginia Healthy Kids & Families Coalition.

For more information on the events or to schedule a Women and Water Listening Session before April 18th in a community affected by the Elk River chemical spill, contact Maya Nye at 304-389-6859 or maya@chemsafety.org.

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Cover Story of Chemical & Engineering News : Deconstructing Inherently Safer Technology

This article was sent via CBG Network:

The Cover Story of the Chemical & Engineering News is dealing with the safety of chemical facilities. The article also addresses the deadly explosion at the Bayer Institute (W.Va.) plant which led to a Congressional investigation.

More info: www.cbgnetwork.org/2627.html and www.csb.gov/bayer-cropscience-pesticide-waste-tank-explosion 


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Our current efforts are responding to the January 9th chemical leak that impacted the drinking water supply for 300,000 West Virginians across 9 counties.

Please keep up to date with statewide activities around this issue by visiting OurWaterWV.org.

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West Virginia Gov. Tomblin’s water crisis Catch-22

West Virginia Gov. Tomblin’s water crisis Catch-22

February 19, 2014 by Ken Ward Jr., Charleston Gazette Coal Tattoo blog

Special Gubernatorial Primary Election

The front page of today’s Daily Mail included a story headlined, “Tomblin ready to focus on recovery.”  Under the headline, reporter Dave Boucher explained:

After more than 40 days in a state of emergency following a massive chemical spill last month, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said he believes West Virginia is almost ready to officially focus on recovery.

“We are looking at the end of the state of emergency,” Tomblin said Tuesday, following a press event at the state Capitol.

Those remarks came the same day that the governor’s office issued another after-hours press release to announce this:

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Karen Bowling today sent a letter to Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to formally request the CDC, or its partners, immediately conduct further epidemiological and/or toxicological studies and address ongoing population surveillance or monitoring as a result of the January 9 Elk River chemical spill. 

Read the full blog post here:  http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2014/02/19/west-virginia-gov-tomblins-water-crisis-catch-22/

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We need everyone we possibly can to SIGN THIS PETITION to get a listening session in Charleston for the President’s Executive Order #13650 “Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security”.  DEADLINE TO SIGN: February 13th.  SIGN NOW and COMMIT TO SHARING WITH YOUR FRIENDS!!!



Here is the text of the petition that we want people to sign on to.  Feel free to copy and write your own letter as well.


Department of Homeland Security Docket Office

Docket No. DHS-2013-0075

Technical Data Center, Room N-2625

U.S. Department of Labor

200 Constitution Avenue NW.,

Washington, DC 20210


January 31, 2014


Re:       Listening Session on President Obama’s Executive Order 13650 – DHS-2013-0075

This is a formal comment to request that a Listening Session on President Obama’s Executive Order 13650 – DHS-2013-0075 be held in Charleston, West Virginia before March 31, 2014.

On January 7, 2014, 10,000 gallons of a coal processing chemical mix (MCHM and PPH) spilled from an above-ground storage facility located on the banks of the Elk River, 1.5 miles upstream from the only public water intake source that serviced 100,000 customers in a nine county region. By 6:30 pm that day, a DO NOT USE advisory had been issued by West Virginia American Water (WVAW), the private water distributor, and 300,000 residents were told not to drink or touch their tap water indefinitely. This use ban was incrementally lifted across the region starting on January 13, and customers were told to flush the contaminated water out through their home plumbing systems. Residents immediately began complaining of health problems, of continued odors, and discolored water. Odors from the chemical mix persist throughout the town of Charleston and outlying areas to this day.

More than three weeks since the spill, residents are still wary of their tap water. Limited information continues to be available about the exact chemical composite distributed in the public water, the public health impacts of those chemicals, the regulatory and industrial failure that led to the leak, the accurate and best way to remove the contaminated water from home pipes and hot water heaters, and the long-term impacts of this incident on the Capitol Region and on the health and safety of one-sixth of the State’s population. Additional information that comes out almost daily reinforces how little we know and how far we are from the situation being over. According to Governor Tomblin, in a letter submitted to FEMA on January 27:

… [D]espite best efforts of the company and government many people no longer view their tap water as safe and are continuing to demand bottled water to meet their potable water needs. It is impossible to predict when this will change, if ever.

West Virginians are concerned about their water, their health, and the economic future of their state because of the lack of safety and security at a local chemical facility. But this facility was one of many that we have in the Kanawha Valley and throughout the state. The 25-mile area of the Kanawha Valley has received more attention from the Unites States Chemical Safety Board in the last five years than any other area of the same size across the country yet still, their recommendations remain outstanding. We need improved guidance, standards and recommendations from the Executive Office regarding chemical facility safety and security that can be enforceable in our community. Both a lack of regulation and a lack of enforcement are directly linked to our current crisis. Additionally, we need inherently safe technology at these facilities, including safer chemicals, better worker safety training, better data coordination, and better coordination between local, state and federal officials and first responders.

This Executive Order is a direct way that we can address the regulatory breakdown that led to the chemical leak in Charleston. A Listening Session on this Order would hear from individuals, organizations and communities that are being actively impacted by a chemical safety crisis, and would ensure that the voices of impacted communities from across the country are included in the development of this Order.

As such, we respectfully request that a Listening Session on President Obama’s Executive Order 13650 – DHS-2013-0075 take place in Charleston, West Virginia as soon as possible.

Comments Submitted on Behalf of,



Posted in Bayer CropScience, Bhopal disaster, chemical safety, Chemical Safety Board, Chemical Safety Improvement Act, chemical safety regulation, Chemical Valley, emergency response, EPA, EPCRA, Executive Order 13650, fenceline community, Institute, Listening Session, Risk Management Plans, Sustained Outrage, toxic, Toxic Substance Control Act, TSCA, Wasting Our Waterways, water quality, worker fatality, WV Water Crisis | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off


This is ONE VERY IMPORTANT THING that you can do RIGHT NOW! By the end of this week! Today!!

Close the loopholes!  Call your legislators! Tell them to support the WV Rivers Coalition/ Downstream Strategies report recommendations AND implement the Chemical Safety Board’s recommendations!

Call Toll Free – 1-877-565-3447

House:http://www.legis.state.wv.us/house/roster.cfmor call


Citizen Guide to Legislature:http://www.legis.state.wv.us/educational/citizens/guide.cfm or http://ourwaterwv.org/legislation/citizens-guide-to-the-legislature/

ALSO, call and request a listening session in Charleston for the President’s Executive Order 13650 on Improving Chemical Safety!



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This water crisis has left many people feeling helpless.  Here are some actions you can take to take charge of your community around these issues!


(this will be updated as legislation evolves so keep paying attention and don’t stop with ONE call or ONE letter!!!)



Chemical Safety Improvement Act

  • Ensure local county or municipal government jurisdiction over chemical plant security
  • Ensure that all chemicals are tested for short and long-term exposures prior to being introduced to manufacturing
  • Override Toxic Substances Control Act grandfather clause that allows 62,000 chemicals to be on the market without adequate long-term toxicology


 President’s Executive Order #13650 – Improving Chemical Safety

All comments should reference the docket ID: DHS-2013-0075.

1. Mail comments to: NPPD/ISCD/Mail stop 0610 Department of Homeland Security 245 Murray Lane, SW Arlington, VA 20598-0610

2. Email comments to: EO.chemical@hq.dhs.gov

3. Complete the comment form at regulations.gov: http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=DHS-2013-0075-0001


  • Sign the petition on MoveOn.org


  • Call legislators and TELL THEM YOU WANT THEM TO KEEP THE SAFE DRINKING WATER COMING!  Don’t stop clean water distribution until our waters are safe!
  • Contact your local church or a church in a neighboring community that is underserved and ask them to be a distribution hub.
  • Interested in hosting a community meeting or information session?  Contact People Concerned Chemical Safety to help you coordinate action planning for your community.  (Information sessions on Chemical Safety and Clean Water Legislation, the Water Crisis and Reproductive Justice, Pipes and Flushing, Rainwater Harvesting, Community Water and Air Monitoring, Health Assessments)
  • Attend Lobbying days at the Capitol


Posted in Chemical Safety Board, Chemical Safety Improvement Act, chemical safety regulation, Chemical Valley, Downstream Strategies, emergency response, EPA, EPCRA, Executive Order 13650, fenceline community, Risk Management Plans, Toxic Substance Control Act, Uncategorized, Wasting Our Waterways | Comments Off