- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A legislative committee unanimously passed an amended bill Wednesday that proposes new regulations for aboveground storage tanks following last month’s chemical spill.

The latest version of the bill passed by the House health committee would require annual inspections for tanks like the one at Freedom Industries that leaked chemicals into the water supply for 300,000 people.

The proposal also requires public water systems to have plans in place to protect their water from spills, and react quickly when they occur.

The House health panel spent almost four hours amending the bill Wednesday evening.

A notable change in the committee’s version of the bill concerns alternative water sources for public water systems. The amendment would require a second water intake or three to five days’ worth of untreated water reserves. The requirement could provide backup water if something again contaminates the main supply.

West Virginia American Water, the company affected in the Jan. 9 spill, is calculating how much a second intake at its Charleston plant would cost. The plant relies solely on the Elk River, where the spill occurred. Freedom Industries is about 1.5 miles upstream of the plant.

Company spokeswoman Laura Jordan said water customers would end up bearing the entire cost if the requirement became law.

Delegates rejected an idea to let residents in the nine-county region participate in medical screenings and monitoring at local health departments.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, head of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, stressed that monitoring needs to start quickly while people still recall how much water they’ve ingested. But local health departments would need additional money to administer the program, he said.

Under the amended bill passed Wednesday, the Department of Environmental Protection would also need to inspect aboveground tanks and have an inventory of any other potential contaminants within 25 miles upstream, a quarter-mile downstream and 1,000 feet laterally alongside banks of water bodies with a public water intake.

The bill has two more House committee stops. The Senate already passed its own version.

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