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April 18, 2014
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Protecting our water supply from chemicals

Ramsay Adams

What stands out the most from the West Virginia spill is how the federal and state governments throughout the nation fail to monitor chemicals and their use in terms of protecting our water supplies. A recent article in the Washington Post’s Health and Science section stated that “It has been 38 years since Congress passed a major piece of legislation regulating toxic chemicals, even though there is no disagreement that the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA, or Tosca) needs an overhaul” and that “Chemicals in the United States are generally treated as innocent until proven guilty. A company does not have to prove that a chemical does not pose a health hazard in order to introduce it in the commercial market.”

Much like West Virginia, our state is way too lax in regulating chemicals. Here in New York State, the controversy surrounding fracking already highlights the dangerous nature of chemicals used and released in the fracking process, In fact, several of the chemicals identified in the West Virginia spill are manufactured for fracking operations. In a report issued by Environmental Advocates in May 2012, a dire warning was issued about the lack of regulation of the oil and drilling process and the flawed exemption of chemicals from being deemed hazardous waste: “Existing state laws and regulations do not require oil and gas companies to report with any specificity how much waste is being created, its chemical components, or how drilling waste is being disposed. We also discovered that much of fracking’s waste would likely be classified as hazardous waste if it were not exempt under flawed state regulations.”

In upstate New York, it’s not just about potential fracking here in the Catskills, but about a broader, rudimentary need to protect our water supply from chemicals on a day-to-day basis. Right now, our water supply is woefully under-regulated in terms of chemical storage and transportation, and with the boom going on right now in transmission pipes servicing the needs of the oil and gas industries in neighboring states, updated studies and regulations should be mandated immediately.

[Ramsay Adams is the founder and executive director of Catskill Mountainkeeper.]