CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An evaluation three months before the Jan. 9 chemical spill found that chemical storage tanks at Freedom Industries did not meet industry standards, federal safety inspectors have found.
Tanks at the Elk River facility were "not necessarily in full compliance with" industry and federal government standards, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said during testimony at a congressional field hearing on the spill.
CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso revealed the October 2013 review of Freedom's tank farm in describing his agency's preliminary research into the spill that polluted the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginians with the chemical Crude MCHM.
"The tanks in use at Freedom Industries were over one-half century old," Moure-Eraso said during a field hearing held by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. "Considering the best way to improve the safety of tanks at facilities that have similar tanks in use is an important question."
During the hearing, CSB officials also revealed a blown-up poster of a state Department of Environmental Protection photo showing two small holes in the bottom of the MCHM tank that leaked.
The CSB is investigating the Elk River spill to find out what happened and make recommendations to avoid another such incident. The agency does not have authority to issue citations or levy fines, but makes recommendations to other agencies and to industry about ways to improve safety.
In his prepared testimony, Moure-Eraso said that Tank Engineering and Management Consultants, a firm that was hired by Freedom, conducted the October 2013 inspection at the facility.
Moure-Eraso said that the firm's review noted that Crude MCHM was not considered "hazardous" for the purposes of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's spill prevention and counter measures rule. Because of that, Moure-Eraso said, the specific tank that leaked Jan. 9 was not examined in the October 2013 inspection.
CSB investigators have found that the "secondary containment wall" -- composed of cinder blocks and surrounding the MCHM tank that leaked -- "provided very little protection from a possible release."
"Company documents further show that the wall was not lined and that tank 396 rested directly on porous material including gravel and soil," Moure-Eraso said.
The consultant firm's inspection did examine other tanks at the site and found the tanks had "been maintained to some structural adequacy, but not necessarily in full compliance" with EPA standards or an American Petroleum Institute standard called API-653.
Johnnie Banks, the CSB's lead investigator in the Freedom Industries probe, said that, among other things, the October 2013 inspection noted potential issues with settling of the tanks that could have affected their stability.
"There was some concern about the condition of the tanks," Banks said after Monday's committee hearing.
Moure-Eraso said that API-653 "is considered the prevailing voluntary good practice" for above-ground storage tanks, and was developed to establish a uniform national program that assists state and local governments in above-ground storage tank regulations.