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Senate Panel Plans Hearings on West Virginia Chemical Spill

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer said her panel will announce two February hearings tied to the chemical spill that left 300,000 people in West Virginia unable to drink their water.

A subcommittee hearing led by Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, will examine whether existing rules, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, can be used to curb the chances of similar spills. In addition, a full committee hearing will examine chemical safety, she said.

“We can fix this now,” said Boxer, a California Democrat.

Residents in nine West Virginia counties were ordered not to drink, cook or bathe with municipal water after about 7,500 gallons of a chemical used in coal processing leaked Jan. 9 from a tank near the Elk River, upstream of a treatment plant for the West Virginia division of American Water Works Co.

Officials began lifting the ban yesterday in zones starting with Charleston, the state capital, after testing found levels of the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol falling below one part per million.

President Barack Obama established a task force to examine whether the law governing chemical facilities should be updated after an explosion last year at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, that killed 14 people.

In a compilation of policy options recently posted on the Internet, the U.S. Labor Department and other agencies said stricter regulations are necessary to prevent explosion such as the one at an Adair Grain Inc. fertilizer depot containing ammonium nitrate.

The policies being considered include lowering the threshold at which the government would be notified that ammonium nitrate is being used or stored, requiring farmers and oil drillers to report on the explosive chemicals they possess and adding chemicals to the hazardous substances lists, according to a document posted on the Labor Department website.

The final rules on these plans are still months away.

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