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Kanawha County maps out water threats

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County emergency officials are building a computer program to catalog hazardous storage sites that might threaten the county's waterways.

C.W. Sigman, the county's deputy emergency services director, said emergency services and Metro 911 officials developed the computerized listing to keep track of hazardous materials that might spill into Kanawha County's water supply. He said County Commissioner Dave Hardy asked for the tracking system in the wake of the Jan. 9 Elk River chemical leak that poisoned the water supply of 300,000 West Virginia American Water customers in nine counties.

"We need to be proactive and go find these facilities," Hardy said earlier this week. "It's surprising how many of these facilities there are."

"We have several hundred in Kanawha County," Sigman said. "A lot of them are gas wells and the associated equipment, but there are a lot of chemical [storage] facilities, too."

On Jan. 9, a storage tank containing the coal-cleaning chemical Crude MCHM leaked into the Elk River above West Virginia American Water's water intake in Charleston, contaminating the water supply for days. Many West Virginia American Water customers still don't trust the water supply and are using bottled water for cooking and drinking.

Sigman said five water plants provide drinking water to Kanawha County residents, and all draw their water from rivers that flow through the county. Hardy and other county officials want a comprehensive list of all the facilities that could threaten that water supply.

Sigman said emergency officials began with a list of hazardous storage sites provided to the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection, then plotted the location of each on a computerized map system. Once up and running, it will be possible to select a location on the map and tell what materials are stored there.

Emergency officials plan to debut the new system at a regular meeting of the Kanawha County Commission on Tuesday.

Sigman warned that it's possible that not all potentially hazardous storage facilities have been reported to the state. "We're going to go out and check the sources and walk the rivers to see what else is out there," he said.

Sigman said the hazardous-materials map will be incorporated into the county's Metro 911 computer system.

Sigman said many of the rivers that flow through the county originate somewhere else and are subject to potential contamination upstream. However, he said, the new countywide system should give enough warning of a spill within the county's boundaries to prevent another calamity like the Jan. 9 leak.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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