WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife led a hearing today to examine the circumstances that contributed to the chemical spill and water contamination in Central West Virginia. The hearing included testimony that reviewed what measures might be necessary to ensure that drinking water sources throughout the country are safe and protected from hazards.
“Americans have a right to expect that water coming from their tap is safe to drink. The recent crisis in West Virginia has shaken that confidence, showing the very real vulnerabilities and threats to the safety and security of our drinking water sources. The plain facts are: We don’t know the extent of the contamination risks to our drinking water sources.
“Federal law requires the states to conduct risk assessments within the watersheds or boundaries of known drinking water sources. Federal law does not, however, require these surveys to be updated or provide any guidance on how this information is to be used. What we have is a patchwork of state data with varying degrees of reliability. This creates uncertainty of risks for water providers. Our laws are just not strong enough to deal with these situations. Updates to our national laws are needed for greater public safety.
“I want to believe that most companies that produce, store, ship and sell potentially hazardous chemicals are responsible actors. The responsibility to provide safe drinking water to thousands of customers is enormous and highly complex. We can’t expect every water provider to test and treat their water for every known chemical. But it is situations like this that clearly demonstrate that even if most actors are good, one bad actor can put at risk the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of people and that there is a very appropriate and essential role for government to play to protect those people from the potential negligence of others.
“The rapid response to the crisis, especially the speedy relief efforts delivered to the affected communities by FEMA and the National Guard are to be commended and we thank those who were there during the victims’ times of need. The gross misconduct of Freedom Industries, the company operating the chemical storage and terminal facility on the banks of the Elk River on the North-Eastside of Charleston, should give us all pause about the potential threats to our water resources across the country.”