By: Ken Ward Jr.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When West Virginia inspectors arrived at Freedom Industries late Thursday morning, they discovered that the company had taken "no spill containment measures" to combat the chemical spill that has put drinking water supplies off-limits for hundreds of thousands of residents.
The state Department of Environmental Protection said Freedom Industries violated the West Virginia's Air Pollution Control Act and the Water Pollution Control Act by allowing the chemical "Crude MCHM," consisting mostly of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, to escape from its facility, just upstream from West Virginia American Water's regional intake in the Elk River.
DEP officials have said between 2,000 gallons and 5,000 gallons of the material leaked from a hole in a storage tank. A concrete-block dike, meant to serve as secondary containment, also leaked, allowing an undetermined amount of the chemical into the Elk.
"It's a bad situation," said Mike Dorsey, chief of the DEP's homeland security and emergency response division.
Dorsey said the tank contained about 30,000 gallons of material at the time of the leak, and that the company had pumped the rest of the material out and shipped it to another of its operations.
Dorsey has said DEP officials began an investigation after receiving odor complaints from nearby residents starting at about 8:15 a.m. The DEP and Kanawha County emergency officials traced the odors to Freedom Industries, which had not self-reported any sort of leak or accident, officials said.
In an air-quality enforcement order, the DEP said air-quality officials who arrived at the site at 11:10 a.m. "discovered that no spill containment measures had been initiated and that an accumulating MCHM leak pool was seeping thru a dike wall adjacent to the Elk River and a downstream oil sheen was observed."
DEP Secretary Randy Huffman said more information needs to be gathered, but that it seems possible the spill into the river might not have been as bad if Freedom Industries had acted more quickly.
"Depending on when they knew [about the leak], had they put containment measures in place the instant they knew, it's logical to deduce that there wouldn't have been as much product in the stream," Huffman said.
Huffman said the DEP plans to issue a third enforcement order -- which requires the company to removal all materials from all of the tanks at the operation -- because of problems with the facility's secondary containment.
"Everything in that tank farm is going to have to be removed," Huffman said.
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