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January 24, 2014

West Virginia Chemical Spill Prompts New Push To Reform TSCA


On January 9, 2014, 7,500 gallons of a coal processing chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, stored in an above-ground tank owned by Freedom Industries leaked into the Elk River just upstream from the local water utility's intake pipe serving Charleston, West Virginia. Regulators banned residents' use of the water for five days. Since the release, concerns have been expressed about the adequacy of information regarding the chemical's safety and health risks, an issue that has been repeatedly raised with respect to chemicals "grandfathered" under TSCA.

The incident has provided a new push for legislative TSCA reform. On January 13, 2014, Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA), Ranking Member of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Paul Tonko (D-NY), Ranking Member of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on the Environment and the Economy, sent a letter to the Subcommittee's Chair John Shimkus (R-IL) urging that he hold a hearing to "examine the regulatory gaps" exposed by the January 9 chemical spill in West Virginia. They assert in the letter that "[a]s [Congress] begin[s] to consider ideas to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), it is critically important that we understand how the law allowed a potentially harmful chemical to remain virtually untested for nearly forty years." A copy of the letter is available online.

On the same day, Lynn L. Bergeson, Managing Partner of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. and Of Counsel to BRAG, was featured on the National Public Radio (NPR) program "All Things Considered" to discuss the chemical spill. Ms. Bergeson expressed her hope that the incident will spark new interest in TSCA reform. The press release on Ms. Bergeson's comments is available online.

To date, no hearing is scheduled on TSCA reform before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the spill sometime soon in Charleston, West Virginia. The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee is also expected to hold a hearing on the spill.