Meanwhile, while under no circumstances is a chemical leak that compromises a region's water supply tolerable or conscionable, federal Chemical Safety Board inspector Johnnie Banks said one thing stands out about this investigation
In almost all cases when the CSB is called in to investigate industrial chemical accidents, there are fatalities involved, Banks said while testifying Friday before the legislative Joint Commission on Water Resources.
Banks cited the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion last year that killed 14, injured more than 200, including more than 160 seriously injured, and destroyed or damaged more than 150 buildings in the town of 2,800 near Waco.
According to state officials, West Virginia's water crisis resulted in no deaths, fewer than 30 hospitalizations, none critical, and just over 500 people seeking medical attention -- and the Bureau for Public Health says that many of those presented with symptoms may well be attributable to flu season, anxiety, or the inability to wash hands adequately during the emergency.
While national commentators have depicted West Virginia as being unusually lax in regulation of, and unusually tolerant of coal and chemical plants, Banks suggested that is not uncommon nationally.
He said in many places across the country, chemical plants and communities coexist for years and years, until a catastrophic event occurs -- in places like West; Geismar, La.; East Rutherford, N.J.; Richmond, Calif., and now Charleston, sites of recent CSB investigations.
"We look at this, as you aptly say it, as a warning," Banks said of the water emergency.
A warning to make sure it never happens again, since the next time, the chemicals involved could be much more toxic.
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Finally, semiretired Charleston lawyer/lobbyist and former state Democratic Party Chairman George Carenbauer said he and wife, Beth, returned from a trip to India (where he said they had access to potable water throughout their visit) only to learn upon landing at Dulles International on Jan. 12 that their supposedly "first-world" hometown was in the midst of a water contamination crisis.
Reach Phil Kabler at ph...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.