This news update discussing The West Virginia Chemical Spill: Myths & Facts is brought to you by Chem.Info.
Unsurprisingly, many are using the chemical spill that occurred in Charleston, West Virginia in January to push the government to tighten chemical regulations across the country. People who probably didn’t know what TSCA was, much less that it stood for the Toxic Substances Control Act, have started to push for Congress to make real changes to the law. The typical reaction to this kind of incident is to demand dramatically increased transparency – but was that really the problem? And is it a real solution for the future?
A report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute has laid out some of the myths and facts surrounding the spill and the media frenzy that has followed.
Myth: The spill was a major environmental catastrophe.
Fact: While clearly there were some failures, both in the preventative efforts and emergency response stages, this incident must be analyzed with a wider perspective. Although some residents did suffer from skin and eye irritation before officials put out the water advisory, by current counts only a minute percentage of the population was affected and serious illness was avoided across the board. The system was flushed and the chemicals were successfully removed from the water supply and would break down in the environment in a matter of weeks.
Myth: This spill shows that chemical industry regulations are not strict enough.
Fact: Adequate regulations were in place, but officials (both state and local) failed to uphold them. For example, Freedom Industries had disclosed this chemical to the EPA, as the Toxics Release Inventory requires, but local officials failed to use that information to plan for an emergency situation involving the chemical. It was also discovered that the failed tanks had not been inspected in decades, which was not in keeping with what the law requires. In this case, oversight and avoidance by both Freedom Industries and various regulatory bodies are to blame far more than lacking regulations.
Myth: The material safety data sheets did not provide useful information about the chemical.
Fact: The sheets did exactly as they are meant to do – include the information necessary to ensure proper and safe handling of the chemical. The MSDS is not meant to detail all risks or toxicological data; they are not meant to be an all-encompassing informational guide in a disaster situation.
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