CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Freedom Industries tank farm responsible for the Elk River chemical contamination is going to be shut down and dismantled, according to an order from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection that was announced Saturday by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
All chemicals must be removed from the facility by March 15.
Freedom must begin the process of dismantling, removing and disposing of all of its above-ground tanks and all associated piping and machinery by that same day, according to the order.
All 17 tanks at the Freedom facility are in inadequate secondary-containment areas, according to a news release from Tomblin's office that was issued with the order. Fourteen of those tanks still have chemicals in them.
The release says that those chemicals include calcium chloride and glycerin, both of which are common additives to household products. DEP Secretary Randy Huffman said three smaller tanks contain a semi-solid substance that is "like fatty acids." Huffman said none of the tanks contain any harmful or hazardous substances.
"During the dismantling of the tanks, Freedom Industries is ordered to install measures that ensure that secondary containment is adequate to contain any potential spills resulting from the work," the release states.
Huffman said workers from the company and the DEP are digging cutoff trenches and taking other remediation efforts to protect the river, should there be another leak before the chemicals can be moved. He also said just having people on the site is a help.
The release states that Tomblin ordered the dismantling of the tank farm, although his signature does not appear on the order. It is a "consent order," meaning the company agreed to the terms. That also means the company cannot appeal the order.
The release states that Tomblin and Huffman began discussing the option of dismantling the tanks on Jan. 10, the day after the leak was discovered.
"The DEP's authority is being used, obviously, but I've been in a lot of conversations with the governor over the last couple weeks over what's next, what authority do we have, how can we use that authority?" Huffman said Saturday night.
Freedom previously had moved its Crude MCHM, the coal-processing chemical that leaked into the river, to its sister facility in Nitro. However, the company was cited afterward by the DEP because that facility also did not have adequate secondary containment.
A woman who answered the phone Saturday at Freedom Industries said company officers would have no comment.
The initial chemical leak contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginians in Charleston and eight surrounding counties.
The order requires Freedom to provide weekly written reports to the DEP, describing how the company is dismantling the tanks and disposing of the materials.
The order states that Freedom has not brought any additional chemicals to its Elk River facility -- Etowah River Terminal -- since the leak was discovered Jan. 9. By Jan. 20, Freedom had removed nearly 270,000 gallons of chemicals from its facility, about 20 percent of its Jan. 9 inventory, the order says.
That would mean that, as of Monday, there were still about 1.3 million gallons of chemicals in Freedom's Elk River tanks.
The order states that Freedom must, "either sell the material to its customers, return the material to the original vendor, or store the material in an off-site area which provides adequate secondary containment."
Freedom previously had written to the DEP, saying that all materials would be moved off-site by March 30. The DEP told Freedom that date was unacceptable and ordered the chemicals moved as soon as possible.
The order cites two long articles of state code, the Water Pollution Control Act and the Groundwater Protection Act, as authorizing the DEP to close down Freedom.
On Thursday Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., had called for Freedom's entire facility to be torn down, to "start from scratch."
The order is signed by Gary Southern, Freedom's president, and it states that Freedom will not contest the government's jurisdiction regarding the order.
Complying with the order does not relieve Freedom from any other laws, permits or requirements.