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Community meets to discuss action plan for chemical spill

CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- More than 100 people agreed on Wednesday night to come together to demand stronger protections for West Virginia's waterways. The group, mostly Charleston residents, gathered at the Roosevelt Community Center on the city's East End to vent their frustrations with last week's chemical spill and the subsequent water ban, now in its seventh day in much of the Kanawha Valley.

The meeting's organizers said they wanted to provide a forum to discuss ways to prevent future chemical spills like the one last week, in which a coal-processing chemical leaked out of a tank at Freedom Industries and into the Elk River, contaminating the water supply.

Jenny Burns, a West Side caterer, said she organized the meeting after reading about people's situations on Facebook and becoming "fired up."

By the night's end, most agreed that stronger chemical regulations are needed in West Virginia.

"They need to regulate the hazardous chemicals just like they regulate my catering business," Burns said.

Many exchanged phone numbers and email addresses, hoping to plan rallies and protests and to contact state representatives. Several people discussed holding a rally at the State Capitol in February.

"I'm picturing CNN panning their cameras to the Capitol and seeing thousands of people," one woman said.

Many who attended expressed fear of using tap water despite health officials lifting "do not use" water orders for many areas.

Charleston resident Robert Breedlove said he used to be a hazardous material shipper in Anchorage, Alaska. Dangerous chemicals are better regulated in Alaska, he said, because the people hold companies and politicians more accountable.

"When I flew to West Virginia in 2009 I got a sinus infection that last nine months," Breedlove said. "The doctor called it the Kanawha crud."

Breedlove said the group meeting Wednesday night should seek out an attorney to represent them. Groups that have representation are more likely to be taken seriously, he said.

Richard Katz, of Charleston, drew a round of applause for announcing that he and five other people paid a firm to test their tap water for chemicals.

Katz said he doesn't trust health officials and politicians who say it's OK to drink the tap water. "I'm not going to believe it until I get a reading of zero parts per million from my own tap," he said.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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