Last month’s chemical spill into West Virginia’s Elk River was a troubling incident that should have never occurred.
Based on media reports and testimony before Congress and the state legislature, it appears that several compliance and communication breakdowns contributed to the spill and the confusion that followed.
OUR VIEW: Huge gaps in oversight
It’s clear that to protect against and prepare for future incidents, we need clarity about what occurred, whether information sharing and inspection requirements were met, and what enforcement actions could have been taken.
Several legislative proposals have been introduced to increase the regulation of chemical storage. As chemical manufacturers, we have a strong interest in the safe storage of the products we make. That is why we fully support efforts to thoroughly investigate the incident, and to address any regulatory gaps that have been identified.
Although we might have questions about bills introduced recently in the state and in Congress, we hope to work with lawmakers to ensure that any new law does not create confusing or redundant programs that could hinder future oversight and response efforts, rather than improve them.
The Elk River incident appears to raise issues about storage operations, secondary containment and information sharing. The incident has also raised the profile of efforts to reform the overall regulation of chemicals. While important protections exist, there is widespread agreement that the primary law regulating industrial chemicals should be updated.
The Chemical Safety Improvement Act is pending in the Senate. It regulates chemical manufacturing and use, and will help ensure that more information on chemicals in commerce is available. As with any legislation in today’s Congress, it is a compromise, and a very good one with support from Republicans, Democrats, industry and organized labor.
The bill would go a long way toward addressing questions about chemical safety and giving consumers and public health officials more information and more confidence about chemicals in commerce. Congress should pass this measure for the people of West Virginia and for the country.
Cal Dooley is president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council.