A catastrophic spill from an above ground chemical storage tank occurred near Charleston, W.V. on Jan. 9. After the chemical spilled and entered the municipal water system, over 300,000 people in nine counties were unable to use their tap water for more than four days. Cincinnati had to close down its water intake from the Ohio River when the 23-mile plume from the spill passed by the city. Some residents using the water in the Charleston area are, over a month later, complaining their water continues to have significant odor. The governor has requested the University of South Alabama test water from 10 Charleston-area homes to see if chemical residues are still present.

The tank that leaked was in a truck terminal positioned alongside the Elk River just upstream of the city's water intake. West Virginia environmental organizations believe this spill could have been prevented if the state required inspection of above-ground chemical storage tanks located upstream or near water intakes.

At a recent Congressional Hearing the US Chemical Safety Board stated regulators should limit where such storage tanks are built or operate. The Board recommends tanks storing chemicals that could threaten water systems not be built or operate close to water intakes.

In Indiana there are 9,581 above-ground storage tanks which contain large volumes of hazardous chemicals. The state inspects only those tanks which contain pesticides or fertilizer and at the time of construction, tanks holding petroleum products. Eight thousand six hundred and eighty five tanks are never inspected by a governmental agency.

In Indiana 2,631 of these tanks are located with Zones of Concern for the protection of public water system sources.

Forty-two Indiana municipalities use rivers or lakes as their source of tap water. After 9-11 the federal government required each community that relies on lakes or ricers for their water supply to map out areas near water intakes which are vulnerable to terrorist attack. Those areas are also vulnerable to spills from chemical storage tanks. There are also wellhead protection zones identified for communities which use ground water. Many Indiana communities are at risk for contamination of their drinking water from uninspected above-ground chemical storage tanks.

Most communities are unaware of the location of above-ground chemical storage tanks and do not know which tanks are located near their municipal water intake. Without inspection of above-ground chemical storage tanks all communities which have tanks are in jeopardy of a spill as was experience by West Virginia.

To minimize the chance of another spill West Virginia environmental organizations are recommending tanks within Zones of Concern should be inspected by the state, and individual emergency response plans be developed to protect water systems from contamination should a spill occur. Once an inspection program is established the law would require owners of tanks that fail inspection to take the appropriate actions necessary to correct the problems identified by the inspector. Further regulation should be established denying construction permits for above-ground chemical storage tanks near water intakes.

West Virginia's catastrophe has resulted in many states and the federal government exploring ways further chemical spills can be avoided. If you would like to know the location of above-ground storage tanks holding hazardous chemical tanks in Indiana and the names of communities that use rivers, reservoirs or lakes for their water supply please contact Jeanette Neagu, jgvneagu@yahoo.com.

The League of Women Voters of Indiana urges the Indiana Department of Environmental Management initiate an inspection program that will reduce the risk of a chemical spill in Indiana.

Amy Olson Miller, President of the League of Women Voters of Indiana