Safeguard our water

For hundreds of thousands of Ohio Valley residents, the chemical spill last week near Charleston was more than a problem for our neighbors. It was reason for us to be worried about the safety of our own drinking water, too.

About 300,000 people in the Kanawha Valley and nearby areas were told not to drink, bathe in, cook or wash clothes with tap water after the spill into the Elk River. It occurred at a chemical plant when a tank holding a liquid used in processing coal failed.

Though a state Department of Environmental Protection Agency official said the chemical is not lethal if swallowed, it is dangerous. Ingesting it can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headaches and diarrhea. Contact with the skin can cause rashes and itching.

Within hours after the spill was reported, an investigation was launched by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia. No doubt other state and federal agencies will conduct their own probes.

In light of what happened, there is virtually no doubt the investigations will reach troubling conclusions.

It already is known that a quantity of the chemical, after leaking out of a holding tank, escaped from a containment area meant to keep it from contaminating nearby ground and water supplies. According to one report, there was a breach in a concrete wall around the containment area.

Why was the company, Freedom Industries, using a tank that lacked a functioning containment area? Do state and/or federal agencies inspect such plants and check safety equipment and facilities such as containment areas on a regular basis?

Those are just two of the questions people in the Kanawha Valley – and here along the Ohio River – will be asking.

Hazardous materials are handled at manufacturing, storage and other facilities along rivers and other streams throughout the United States. Here, most of the water Ohio Valley residents trust comes from the river.

If there is danger of a similar disaster here, we need to know about it – and state and federal officials need to do more to prevent it.