Local Delegates React to WV Chemical Spill

Local Delegates React to WV Chemical Spill

It's an environmental disaster local legislators are calling unacceptable.

WEST VIRGINIA 300,000 West Virginians still have no access to safe tap water after a chemical spill in Charleston was discovered Thursday.

It's an environmental disaster local state legislators are calling unacceptable.

"It’s shocking in 2014 that something like this can happen in the United States,” said Stephen Skinner, (D-Jefferson, District 67). “And this is going to deserve a full investigation so we can find out how a chemical like this can get into our water system. This is a homeland security issue, and this is a safety issue for everyone who uses their tap. It's unacceptable anywhere, and it's certainly unacceptable in West Virginia"

Local delegate Paul Espinosa, (R - Jefferson, District 66), says he noticed something was wrong on Thursday when he returned to his home located right along the Elk River.

"I did notice an odor, an unusual odor that smelled very similar to licorice," said Espinosa.

Days after a chemical leaked from a storage tank at Freedom Industries into the Elk River, residents in nine counties are still left without safe water to use for any purpose except flushing.

"Right now, nearly 20 percent of West Virginia is without safe access to water from their tap,” said Skinner. “That's unprecedented to have 300,000 people without access to water.  I don't think there's anything in the history of West Virginia that compares to this type of crisis."

The Department of Health and Human Resources is reporting that dozens of people have gone to hospitals for symptoms like nausea and vomiting.

But besides potential health risks, local businesses are also being hit hard. Speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates, Timothy Miley, says he is working to set up an emergency loan system for small businesses that have been affected by the spill.

"You have to imagine that every restaurant, every hair salon, every business that has anything to do with water can't be open right now and those people still have to pay their rent," said Skinner.

State government operations have also been put on hold. Several delegates from the Eastern Panhandle arrived in Charleston Wednesday for the beginning of the legislative session only to be turned away the next day.

All legislative business was canceled Friday, and many state operations have been put on hold.

"My understanding is that most of the day-to-day state operations are closed. If the capital is closed, if the court houses are closed, we can't move on with the system other than in a skeletal way,” said Skinner. “This is going to be an enormous topic of discussion during the rest of the legislative session. If we can't supply safe water to our folks in West Virginia, how can we ask anybody to locate a business here?”

Because the effects of the spill have been so wide-reaching, legislators say they want to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.

"It’s going to be important to look very closely at how this incident occurred and how to prevent it in the future," said Espinosa.

For now, the immediate focus will be on the cleanup process.

"I cannot imagine that even if the chemical is no longer going into the water system as of right now, that the crisis is going to be over before the middle of next week because the entire system is going to have to be flushed,” said Skinner.

Officials say they are not sure exactly when the water will be safe to use again, and federal authorities have opened an investigation into the spill.

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