SB 312: Protect Our Drinking Water From Hazardous Chemicals

WestVirginiaSpillIn January of 2014 an above-ground storage tank (AST) in Charleston, West Virginia leaked due to corrosion. Over 7,000 gallons of a hazardous chemical (MCHM) spilled into the Elk River upstream of a public water utility intake. This spill left 300,000 people without safe tap water for a week and resulted in 300 people seeking medical care for breathing problems, rashes, nausea and vomiting while fourteen people were hospitalized from exposure to the contaminated water. The resulting investigation found that Freedom Industries, a local chemical company, had known about the tank’s condition for several years before the spill and that their ASTs had not been inspected by government since 1991.

The West Virginia incident highlighted serious gaps in federal and state oversight of ASTs. In Indiana, there are an estimated 9,500 ASTs. These ASTs contain chemicals such as industrial by-products and pesticides that could be very harmful to people and to wildlife. The vast majority of these tanks do not receive any regular government inspection. Furthermore, no less than 450 tanks in Indiana are considered direct threats because of their relative closeness to a drinking water source.

Given that we really have no idea where the majority of ASTs are located or even what they contain, IDEM asked Senator Charbonneau to introduce legislation governing these structures. The resulting bill, SB 312, would require owners of ASTs to register tanks with a capacity of 660 gallons or more that are along a stream within 25 miles of a surface water drinking water intake or within 5 miles of an intake in Lake Michigan, unless that tank is already required to report under a different law.  SB 312 also requires public water utility operators to maintain a surface water threat minimization and response plan that they must submit to IDEM so that they are prepared to respond to and limit the impacts of a spill that threatens their drinking water intake.

HEC and our allies urge that SB 312 be strengthened by:

  • Reducing the number of reporting exemptions
  • Requiring more information about the tanks and their contents be reported
  • Requiring tanks smaller than 660 gallons to report if the tank contains a particularly dangerous chemical