States can’t count on feds to keep safe

West Virginia legislators who began hearings on the disastrous Kanawha County chemical spill earlier this month already know one thing: We can’t count on the federal government to safeguard us from similar problems in the future.

That means the state Division of Environmental Protection should act immediately to check chemical storage facilities. Likewise, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources should do the same here.

Neither state nor federal agencies charged with safeguarding water supplies did so in regard to Freedom Industries. Had anyone regularly been inspecting the firm’s storage tanks beside the Elk River in Charleston, it would have become apparent there were serious problems.

Not only did Freedom Industries’ tank holding one hazardous chemical leak, but a containment area around it was damaged. That allowed thousands of gallons of a toxic chemical to flow into the river, with some of it sucked into a water treatment plant’s intake pipe. About 300,000 West Virginians were told for several days not to drink water from their taps. Some people were sickened by the tainted water.

Reporters probing the disaster have learned neither state nor federal agencies had inspected Freedom Industries for many years. No one seemed to think that was part of their agency’s job description.

In West Virginia, whether it falls under the DEP’s statutory mandate or not, that agency should be inventorying chemical storage facilities near water sources. At least cursory inspections should be made immediately. More thorough monitoring should be scheduled.

Here in Ohio, state authorities should review all potentially dangerous storage facilities and make sure some legal body, such as the Ohio EPA, is in charge of inspections. If certain types of facilities are falling through the cracks, those cracks should be filled immediately.

If the DEP in West Virginia or the state EPA in Ohio lacks authority for any such task, legislators should provide it at once.