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Chemical Safety Board promises broad probe of spill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The U.S. Chemical Safety Board on Wednesday promised a detailed probe of last week's chemical spill that fouled the water supply for hundreds of thousands of West Virginians.

CSB officials indicated that their probe would focus on the chemical tank that spilled thousands of gallons of the chemical "Crude MCHM" into the Elk River.

But agency officials also said that they would like to examine other issues, including the lack of planning for such an incident, given the proximity of Freedom Industries to the regional water intake and the dearth of information about the potential health impacts of the chemical involved.

"There's an obligation to provide information to the public when something like this happens that helps them to better understand," said Johnnie Banks, a supervising investigator who is leading the CSB team examining the incident.

Banks said the CSB is setting up interviews, and is confident workers will answer questions, despite possible concerns over a federal criminal investigation launched by U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.

"The CSB position is that safety and law enforcement investigations are both important and should proceed along parallel lines, and at the same time," the CSB's managing director, Daniel Horowitz, said in comments posted on a Gazette reporter's Facebook page. "Both serve important societal functions."

Banks said that a key part of the CSB investigation would be to examine the tank that leaked.

After visiting the site and the tank, Banks said that there "wasn't anything about its exterior condition that would yell out that this tank was about to fail.

"What we're hoping to do and will ultimately do is put the tank under close scrutiny and analyze the material that the tank is constructed of, take a look at the failure points and see what caused that failure and have some really clear-cut answers about why the tank did what it did on the day of the incident," Banks said.

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


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