Senators: Aluminum Bill Needs Repairs
DEP may change how it is tested in water
Morgantown Dominion Post
1 February 2014
By David Beard
CHARLESTON – In the wake of the Freedom Industries spill and
statewide concerns about water quality, Senators are aiming to fix
a bill presented by the Department of Environmental Protection
that many fear could weaken the protections for aluminum
The DEP wants to change its measure for aluminum concentration in
water from a fixed standard to one based on the water’s hardness
(concentration of minerals, in particular calcium chloride). DEP
contends this will prevent both overregulation and under
regulation, and save the state and industry money.
Environmental concerns say the science behind this is inadequate
and simply offers the coal and quarrying industries the freedom to
pollute more easily.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explains: “Toxicity
information about aluminum is generally lacking. It has been
determined that fish tend to be more sensitive to aluminum
toxicity than aquatic invertebrates. Aluminum can cause pulmonary
and developmental problems.”
Two weeks after the Freedom Industries chemical spill, on Jan. 22,
SB 136, the water quality rules bill from the DEP, slipped quietly
through the Senate Natural Re- sources Committee.
The panel had spent nearly 50 minutes of the one-hour meeting
debating SB 373 — the new above-ground tank regulations. With a
few minutes left, Senators took up SB 136, the 56-page
modification of certain water quality rules, including aluminum.
It’s not unusual for laymen legislators to rely on the experts for
complicated rules bills filled with equations — unless lobbyists
call their attention to problems.
In this case, said Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, no one had
sounded an alarm and the panel quickly OK’d it. The alarms came
afterward — largely via a burst of social media protests.
In its explanation for the change, the DEP said studies show a
relationship between hardness and the toxicity of dissolved
aluminum in waters with a pH range of 6.5 to 9.0 (7 is neutral in
the 0-14 scale, with lower numbers more acid and higher more
base). More aluminum is therefore permissible in harder water.
Changing the standard, DEP said, can prevent unnecessary treatment
costs for industry and save the state money and resources by
taking some streams off the EPA’s impaired list. Colorado and New
Mexico use hardness-based standards.
Don Garvin, legislative coordinator for the West Virginia
Environmental Council, spearheaded the protests in the Capitol.
There are few solid studies on the effects of hardness on aluminum
toxicity, he said.
He said in a handout, “Whether these higher levels of aluminum
will cause biological harm … is simply not known. This proposed
rule offers a dream scenario for the mining and quarrying
industry. ” As environmental disturbance increases, water hardness
and aluminum also increase. “The more aluminum that is released
from a mined or quarried site, the more aluminum DEP permits to be
Beach, a member of the Natural Resources and Judiciary Committees,
said, “In the community it’s perceived we’re trying to weaken
water quality in this state. You can argue it either way but
perception rules in this situation.”
He first approached DEP about pulling the bill, but DEP told him
and The Dominion Post that the rules package contains other items
it wants considered. DEP told The Dominion Post the Senate should
consider amending the bill, and that’s also the message it gave
Beach said the DEP relayed to him that it won’t oppose Judiciary
amending the aluminum provisions out of the bill and will have
someone on hand to say that.
DEP wouldn’t confirm that to The Dominion Post. It said, "The DEP
respects the legislative process and understands that amendments
can be made to any of its proposed rules at any point during the
session. Beyond that, we have no comment.”
Beach said he and some colleagues are working on drumming up
committee support to approve the amendment. He thinks it may come
onto the agenda on Wednesday or Thursday. “We ’ll have to wait and