The West Virginia chemical spill that left some 300,000 people without access to water has exposed a gaping hole in the country's chemical regulatory system, according to environmental experts.
Much the state remains under a drinking-water advisory after the spill last week into the Elk River near a water treatment facility. As much as 7,500 gallons of the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, which is used in the washing of coal, leaked from a tank owned by a company called Freedom Industries.
A rush on bottled water ensued, leading to empty store shelves and emergency water delivery operations. According to news reports, 10 people were hospitalized following the leak, but none in serious condition.
The spill and ensuing drinking water shortage have drawn attention to a very lax system governing the use of chemicals, according to Richard Denison, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund who specializes in chemical regulation. "Here we have a situation where we suddenly have a spill of a chemical, and little or no information is available on that chemical," says Denison.