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DEP increases inspections at Freedom tank farm

By Ken Ward Jr., Staff writer

State regulators are now inspecting the Freedom Industries tank farm at least twice a day, doubling their presence at the site of the January chemical spill that contaminated the drinking water system that serves 300,000 people in Charleston and the surrounding region.

The stepped-up inspections, confirmed by Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Kelley Gillenwater, are part of the response to two stormwater overflows last week at Freedom that sent potentially contaminated runoff pouring into the Elk River. DEP inspectors had said that they previously examined the Freedom site at least once on a daily basis.

On Thursday, Gillenwater said that additional runoff protections put in place after the June 12 and June 13 spills, managed to properly control stormwater at the site during a heavy rain on Thursday morning.

“We had an inspector at the site before the rain started and another inspector there throughout the rainstorm and everything was under control,” Gillenwater said.

DEP inspectors cited Freedom Industries last week after each of the two incidents in which a stormwater collection trench at the north end of the Freedom site twice overflowed. Stormwater from the trench contained 2.78 parts per million of MCHM, the main chemical involved in January’s Freedom spill. By the time the river flow reached the West Virginia American Water intake about 1.5 miles downstream, the Elk appeared to have diluted the chemical down to levels that were non-detectable using testing methods that could identify MCHM’s presence at concentrations as low as 0.38 parts per billion.

Following last week’s incidents, Freedom added two additional pumps to periodically clean out the collection trench, raised the berm along low spots at the edge of the trench, and added around-the-clock staffing at the site. At the urging of DEP Secretary Randy Huffman, Freedom also terminated its main remediation design contractor, Civil & Environmental Consultants.

In a press release on Thursday, DEP said that agency officials “will continue to closely supervise all activities at the site, including the stormwater collection controls in place to keep water that comes into contact with potentially contaminated soil from getting into the Elk River.”

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


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