"The most important thing now is to make things safe and increase our confidence, the confidence of the community and the workforce," said Amy Weintraub, a Charleston mother who attended Monday night's hearing with her 12-year-old daughter, Caroline.
The Senate swiftly passed the chemical storage tank bill last month. The House plans to have three committees review the bill.
Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, sharply criticized DEP Secretary Randy Huffman, who was quoted in news articles as saying "it just didn't click in anybody's mind" that the Freedom Industries tank farm on the Elk River posed a threat to the water supply of 300,000 West Virginians.
"This is a very rude awakening," Rosser said. "It's not just about one leaking tank. It's about redeeming our state from going down this path of degradation of our waterways."
Earlier Monday, Dr. Rahul Gupta, chief health officer of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, told members of the House health committee that he found out about the Jan. 9 chemical spill from a Charleston television reporter.
Gupta said local health departments must work hand-in-hand with the DEP and Department of Health and Human Resources. "We cannot afford anymore to work in silos," he said.
In response to the spill, Gupta recommended that the state establish a medical-monitoring program to evaluate the effects of the tainted water on local residents. Gupta also suggested the state set up a hazardous chemical release prevention program.
West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre also spoke at the House health committee meeting, saying the company plans to start replacing 16 carbon filters at its Charleston water treatment facility next month. McIntyre said the filters weren't contaminated, but would be replaced because of "public perception" that the filters might have been compromised during the chemical spill.
McIntyre also dismissed criticism that the water company should have shut off the treatment plant's intake system immediately after the spill. McIntyre said that action would have "de-pressurized" the entire water system and left the region without water to flush toilets and put out fires.
"If I was faced with the same circumstances, I would have made the same decision," McIntyre said.
The water company plans to start applying 1,000-gallon credits to customers' water bills later this week.
Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.