The chemical spill into the Elk River warns all of us that we should not sit idly by, believing our drinking water supplies are protected from contaminants. The League of Women Voters of West Virginia urges everyone to become informed about their drinking water sources.
The Safe Drinking Water Act includes a Source Water Assessment and Protection (SWAP) Program. Water companies are supposed to develop a SWAP program that includes potential contaminant threats to drinking water sources and assess whether it is likely that the source water can become contaminated. Communities can follow up with management plans that will protect their source waters and contingency plans on how to respond to accidents.
The Elk River accident points out several major problems - the lack of inspections of the Freedom Industries facility, Freedom's tardiness in informing the water company of the leak, West Virginia American Water Company's lack of knowledge of the contaminant's potential harm, and the lack of a community plan to protect the drinking water sources.
Unfortunately many of the SWAP programs are out of date all around West Virginia. In most cases a community plan has not been prepared to prevent drinking water disasters. It is difficult or impossible to find water companies' SWAP programs on the Internet. The Elk River chemical spill should trigger all of us to demand an update of our SWAP programs as well as community planning for the protection of our drinking water sources.
More information about the SWAP program can be accessed at the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health Office of Environmental Health Services Environmental Engineering Division, online at www.wvdhhr.org/oehs/eed/swap/.
The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization that works to inform the public of important governmental issues and encourages citizens to participate in determining public policy.