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DEP: Freedom in compliance with demolition schedule

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Freedom Industries has started tearing down its Elk River tank farm, where a faulty chemical storage tank contaminated the water supply of 300,000 people in January.

The company had agreed to begin demolishing the site by March 15.

On Friday, it completed a plan detailing how, and in what order, it would dismantle and remove its tanks from the site. That plan was approved and made public by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection on Wednesday.

Freedom has already begun cutting into tank 393, the northernmost tank on its property, to get at the "tank heel," the last remnants of chemical in the tank. DEP spokesman Tom Aluise said, because of that, the company was in compliance with the agreed-upon demolition schedule.

The company anticipates that it will break even or make a small profit on the demolition after it sells its equipment as scrap metal.

The company has told U.S. Bankruptcy Court that it will permanently shut down after it has finished tearing down the site.

Almost all the chemicals have been transported off the site, but tank heel remains in the bottom of several tanks.

Tank heel is material that lies below the tank's valve, so it cannot be removed by normal pumping processes. That liquid will be extracted before tanks are demolished.

Aluise said there was no timeline for how long it would take to tear down the site.

A news release sent along with the plan said it is likely the licorice odor associated with the leaked chemical, Crude MCHM, will intensify during deconstruction. Aluise said there is a "really good chance" the odor will return.

It's still unclear if there are any adverse health effects from the chemical's fumes or odor, which were widespread after the leak and during the subsequent pipe-flushing process, but many residents reported nausea, light-headedness and other symptoms attributed to the smell.

The approved "tank decommission plan" states that the contractor will "control dust or other airborne emissions," including by spraying water to contain dust. There is no plan to directly control the chemical odor.

"There's nothing that I know of that addresses the licorice smell," Aluise said.

The plan says Freedom will attempt to solicit bids from at least three contractors to tear down the tanks. It also references Diversified Services, a company that has hauled chemicals for Freedom in the past and did much of the cleanup work immediately after the leak.

Diversified is currently under investigation by the DEP for alleged environmental violations and by federal agencies over undisclosed allegations.

According to the submitted plan, Diversified will work specifically on tank 396, the one that leaked about 10,000 gallons of Crude MCHM.

"Freedom understands that the Chemical Safety Board will clean and sandblast tank 396," the plan states. "Freedom will then coordinate with [the] CSB for Diversified to cut a doorway into tank 396. The selected contractor will cut the floor section from tank 396."

The CSB will keep tank 396's floor, where holes were found.

Aluise was unclear why Diversified was referenced in the plan if Freedom has yet to solicit bids for contractors, but he said there are contingency plans if the federal investigation interfers with Diversified's work.

"We were assured by C&E [the environmental contractor that produced the plan for Freedom] that if Diversified pulled out, C&E would have personnel on site immediately and there would be no interruption in work at the site," Aluise wrote in an email.

Before it enters into a contract or commencing fieldwork, Freedom must give 48-hours notice to its bankruptcy judge, representatives for its creditors and the DEP.

The company will conduct an asbestos study, with the results given to contractors as part of bid requests.

It also will do a similar analysis to check for lead-based paint on tanks. No on-site burning will be permitted and the company must make efforts to minimize stormwater runoff, including the use of impervious liners during and after tank removal.

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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