"We've always done the hard work," Manchin said. "But that's not an excuse for saying you have to throw caution to the wind on the environment or on safety.
"The bottom line is, 'Why do we have to have these disasters and tragedies?' I can't answer that for you," Manchin said. "It's a shame."
Reps. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant also testified at Tuesday's hearing.
In a House subcommittee hearing, NRDC senior scientist Jennifer Sass agreed that the West Virginia leak highlighted the need to re-examine and carefully reform the nation's toxic-chemical laws.
"It was surprising to many people -- and wholly unacceptable -- that thousands of gallons of a hazardous chemical could be stored and spill upstream of a drinking-water intake -- and that there was essentially no useful information available for the public, drinking-water system operators, state or federal public-health officials or medical professionals and first responders, as to the safety or potential health and environmental effects of the substance," Sass told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.
Sass said, though, that the situation is even worse.
"We are routinely exposed to hundreds, even thousands, of chemicals in our daily lives -- even before we are born -- in an infinite number of combinations and mixtures -- and for most chemicals, we do not have the information necessary to know whether or not those chemicals are safe," Sass said.
In Senate testimony, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman said his agency has identified 600 facilities housing 3,500 above-ground chemical-storage tanks. As many as 100 of those facilities -- including perhaps 1,000 tanks -- "may exist within an area that could impact a public drinking-water source," Huffman said.
"Many of these tanks contain petroleum or other materials that may be regulated under different programs, in which case, they would not pose the risk that the Freedom Industries site and others like it pose," Huffman said, "but these numbers clearly raise concerns that this incident could be repeated in other areas of the state."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.