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Water Resource committee hears from Chemical Safety Board

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An unknown amount of two chemicals that have little information available on them leaked from tank 396, a storage tank constructed before World War II.

On Jan. 9 7,500 gallons of crude MCMH as well as 5.6 percent of PPH leaked into the Elk River as a result of a failure in an above-ground storage tank and secondary containment wall.

Johnnie Banks is an investigator with the Chemical Safety Board and spoke to the failure of the storage tank in a joint committee meeting on Water Resources the morning of Jan. 24.

"We're learning everyday more and more about this case," Banks said. "We realize the people in this area want to know what happened."

Banks said the investigations into these facilities generally take about a year, but the team of investigators would be able to provide legislators with some details as the process continues. He also said the urgency could speed up the process.

Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, chairman of the joint committee, said there is a sense of urgency to find out what lawmakers need to include in the bill.

"We do not know how many of these (tanks) are out there and what's in them," Unger said. "There could be some tank, sitting somewhere, already leaking in the ground and we don't even know it."

Sen. Ronald Miller, D-Greenbrier, asked Banks about the knowledge of crude MCHM and if more information is coming to light on the chemical.

"How many products are out there we don't know about," he said. "Have you seen this before?"

Banks said he has seen varying degrees of the chemical but the chemical has been a surprise to everyone involved in the investigation process.

Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, said Friday he was concerned with requirements on the secondary containment wall.

Walters said he would like to be able to include in the legislation the requirements for the construction of the last resort before a chemical like crude MCHM is leaked into a water source.

"As we moved forward to isolate the tanks we'll also be looking at the use of secondary containment walls," Banks said. "Using a wall as opposed to something else."

Walters requested requirements legislators should put in place to contain disasters of this proportion in the future.

Banks could also not speak to the long-term effects of either chemical on humans. He said if pertinent information were made available in the investigation process they would let the public know of those safety risks.

A bill addressing regulations of storage tanks will be on second reading in the West Virginia Senate Monday, Jan. 27.