CREDIT: Emily Atkin
After 7,500 gallons of a chemical called crude MCHM spilled into West Virginia waters on Thursday, contaminating potable water for 16 percent of the state, the company responsible was ordered to move the rest of those chemicals to a new site.
But that site is not safe either, according to a report released Wednesday by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Freedom Industries has now been slapped with five violations from the DEP for using a storage facility without secondary containment — meaning there was no adequate barrier to prevent a chemical from leaving a site if it spilled from the original container. Federal law requires tanks and piping within 1,000 feet of community water systems to have secondary containment and be monitored for leaks.
“The plan indicates that the building itself acts as secondary containment, but holes exist at floor level in the building’s walls,” DEP inspector Kevin Saunders wrote in the report. “A variety of chemicals (emulsifiers, oxidizers, acids, corrosives, mineral oil, etc) were stored in the facility without secondary containment and could reach the trench in the event of a spill.”
What’s more, the new site Freedom Industries chose to store the crude MCHM was — like the first site — within 1,000 feet of a river that supplies potable water, the DEP report said.
According to the report, the new location to store the remaining crude MCHM is a building, which is surrounded by a trench. The trench is supposed to catch any runoff from the building, which Freedom Industries reportedly indicated may act as secondary containment. If anything spills from the building, it would just go into the trench, which cannot discharge into the water unless someone opens a gate.
However, Saunders wrote that there is no way to keep leaked chemicals from mixing with stormwater, so the trench does not act as secondary containment.
“Given what we’ve been through, it would be very hard for me to convince anybody that there’s not something to be nervous about,” DEP Secretary Randy Huffman told the Charleston Daily Mail.
Freedom Industries has faced harsh criticism over its apparent lack of updates since the Thursday spill, which some residents believe was occurring for as long as a month earlier than reported. The original tank that stored and eventually leaked the chemical was old, and hadn’t been inspected since 1991, when it was owned by a different company.
“I always thought it wasn’t even open,” Phil Mullins, a lifelong Charleston resident who has driven by the tanks on many occasions, said. “It looked like it was abandoned.”
James Vermillion, who works with Mullins at Trojan Landing Marine and lives across from the Freedom Industries storage tanks, said the tanks used to look “painted and nice.” But no more.
“From what I’ve seen, they’re not professional. The place looks run down,” he said. “That right there shows they’re not paying attention.”