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Legislators promote Clean Drinking Water Act bills in House and Senate

CHARLESTON – Democrat delegates and senators assembled Thursday afternoon to promote awareness of two safe drinking water bills languishing in their respective committees.

Both are called the Clean Drinking Water Act. Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, is lead sponsor of HB 4542, sitting in House Health and Human Resources. Sen. Bill Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, picked up Hansen’s bill and introduced it in the Senate, where it’s sitting in Judiciary.

Both bills deal with toxic manmade chemicals known as PFASs, which are found in various household products and cleaning supplies, in water-repellant fabric and firefighting foam. They are suspected of being carcinogenic.

The chemicals don’t break down and remain in the environment and in the bodies of humans and animal.

West Virginia has two areas affected by PFAS, Hansen said at Thursday’s press conference. One is Wood County, where runoff from Dupont’s Washington Works plant put the chemical known as C8 into the water, leading to the class action suits in 2001 that are featured in the National Geographic documentary The Deveil We Know, and the recent movie Dark Waters.

The other, he said is in Martinsburg, where the presence of PFAS is apparently to firefighting foam used in training. The health impacts of that are being studied.

The bills, he said, have three parts. One, it requires industrial sites that have used PFAS to disclose that to the state Department of Environmental Protection.  Two, those facilities will have to monitor their discharges.

Three, state agencies will use the data gathered to propose Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act thresholds.  

West Virginia is among the states exploring or taking action on PFAS in the absence of federal EPA action, he said.

Two non-legislators also spoke.

Nancy Ward is a Charleston retail business owner who was affected by the 2014 Freedom Industries spill.

“While we’re trying to attract businesses, what I don’t understand is why we’re not protecting the businesses that are here,” she said. “If you want to keep business here, you have to keep the people here, and keep them healthy.”

Harry Deitzler is a Charleston attorney who represented 2,500 plaintiffs in the 2001-2005 class action suit against Dupont and is portrayed as a character in Dark Waters.

He prefaced, “I believe in the chemical industry and I believe in what it does for the community.”

The title of The Devil We Know, he said, stems from the decision made by Dupont officials in Delaware, when they became aware of the problems with C8, not to stop using it in its Teflon manufacturing and replace it with something else for fear of the consequences of trying an alternative. “Let’s just stay with the devil we know,” they said, according to the court record.

The managers and workers in Parkersburg weren’t aware of the problem or the decisions being made in Delaware, he said. “If you don’t have legislation you don’t have any way to keep track of that.”

In the 2005 settlement, he said, in lieu of handing out checks to the class plaintiffs, the plaintiffs’ attoeneys agreed to pay them to come in and provide their health data; 70,000 people provided data, which was crucial to awareness of the problem that’s prompting these bills.

“Without the regulation, things are not going to happen,” he said.

Ihlenfeld wrapped up the conference. “We can’t wait on the feds to fix this problem,” he said. “Congress, as you all know, moves at the speed of an iceberg.” But the bills make sure the state gets its facts straight before it takes action.

Hansen and Ihlenfeld both promote the bills as jobs bills. Ihlenfeld said, “In the end, businesses will want to come here because they’ve seen we’ve learned those lessons. … They’ll be more likely to come here if they see we’re being responsible.”

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