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Freedom Industries cited for Elk chemical spill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When West Virginia inspectors arrived at Freedom Industries late Thursday morning, they discovered that the company had taken "no spill containment measures" to combat the chemical spill that has put drinking water supplies off-limits for hundreds of thousands of residents.

The state Department of Environmental Protection said Freedom Industries violated the West Virginia's Air Pollution Control Act and the Water Pollution Control Act by allowing the chemical "Crude MCHM," consisting mostly of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, to escape from its facility, just upstream from West Virginia American Water's regional intake in the Elk River.

DEP officials have said between 2,000 gallons and 5,000 gallons of the material leaked from a hole in a storage tank. A concrete-block dike, meant to serve as secondary containment, also leaked, allowing an undetermined amount of the chemical into the Elk.

"It's a bad situation," said Mike Dorsey, chief of the DEP's homeland security and emergency response division.

Dorsey said the tank contained about 30,000 gallons of material at the time of the leak, and that the company had pumped the rest of the material out and shipped it to another of its operations.

Dorsey has said DEP officials began an investigation after receiving odor complaints from nearby residents starting at about 8:15 a.m. The DEP and Kanawha County emergency officials traced the odors to Freedom Industries, which had not self-reported any sort of leak or accident, officials said.

In an air-quality enforcement order, the DEP said air-quality officials who arrived at the site at 11:10 a.m. "discovered that no spill containment measures had been initiated and that an accumulating MCHM leak pool was seeping thru a dike wall adjacent to the Elk River and a downstream oil sheen was observed."

DEP Secretary Randy Huffman said more information needs to be gathered, but that it seems possible the spill into the river might not have been as bad if Freedom Industries had acted more quickly.

"Depending on when they knew [about the leak], had they put containment measures in place the instant they knew, it's logical to deduce that there wouldn't have been as much product in the stream," Huffman said.

Huffman said the DEP plans to issue a third enforcement order -- which requires the company to removal all materials from all of the tanks at the operation -- because of problems with the facility's secondary containment.

"Everything in that tank farm is going to have to be removed," Huffman said.

Air quality inspectors cited Freedom Industries for violating a state regulation that says, "No person shall cause, suffer, allow, or permit the discharge of air pollutants which cause or contribute to an objectionable odor at any location occupied by the public."

The company was ordered to provide a "detailed explanation" of what happened, how long the violation existed and what remedial measures it plans to take.

DEP water quality officials cited the company, saying the spill had created "conditions not allowable in the Elk River by creating odors in the vicinity of state waters, by requiring an unreasonable degree of treatment of state waters, and by creating a sheen on the surface of the water."

Agency inspectors also said the company "has failed to take all measures necessary to contain the spill and render it harmless."

DEP water officials ordered the company to cease further receipt of material to be stored in the area with the faulty secondary containment.

Agency officials ordered the company to "take all necessary measures to contain, recover and remediate the material that has escaped the breached above ground storage tank and the secondary containment structure." The DEP said the remediation must include, at a minimum, "installation of interceptor trenches adjacent to the Elk River, and the installation and maintenance of booms and absorbents in affected waterways."

The DEP ordered the company to immediately conduct an integrity test of all above-ground storage tanks and secondary containment structures for its entire facility. The company also must provide a report that documents the integrity of its storage tanks, the DEP said.

In a statement issued Friday afternoon by publicists from Charles Ryan Associates, Freedom Industries said that, "Since the discovery of the leak, safety for residents in Kanawha and surrounding counties has been Freedom Industries' first priority.

"We have been working with local and federal regulatory, safety and environmental entities, including the DEP, Coast Guard, Army Corp of Engineers and Homeland Security, and are following all necessary steps to fix the issue. Our team has been working around the clock since the discovery to contain the leak to prevent further contamination," the company said via Charles Ryan. "At this point, Freedom Industries is still working to determine the amount of 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, or Crude MCHM, a chemical used in processing coal, that has been released, as the first priority was safety, containment and cleanup."

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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