If Freedom Industries had alerted everyone immediately about its massive chemical spill, West Virginia American Water might have closed its Elk River intake and prevented contamination of the public water supply across eight counties.Or, if the utility had installed detectors to spot strange chemicals, they might have stopped the flow before it was too late.Why weren't better protections in place to shield 300,000 West Virginians from this calamity?As environmental reporter Ken Ward Jr. noted Sunday, Freedom Industries had dutifully obeyed the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act by reporting chemicals stored at its Elk tank farm. But officialdom apparently paid little attention. After the spill occurred, state and local emergency officers said they knew almost nothing about the pollutant -- even though it had been properly disclosed.
Washington pollution watchdog Fred Millar reminded Ward that the whole point of industrial disclosure laws is to make communities aware of hazards they face. "It's just head-in-the-sand to be ignoring this type of threat," Millar said.Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said it's obvious that Kanawha Valley emergency systems had done "not enough" to prepare for possible trouble from the decrepit plant.Why didn't Freedom Industries alert authorities, instead of waiting until neighbors complained about foul odors and called inspectors?Why didn't West Virginia American Water have detectors that could have spotted an intruder chemical and closed the intake? As soon as this mess is over, legislators and other public leaders must find ways to impose better safeguards for the people.