CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has inspectors at the site of the Freedom Industries spill following the overflow of a storm water collection trench, which resulted in a small but undetermined amount of water spilling into the Elk River.
A DEP inspector noticed water overflowing from a containment pond at the site of the Freedom Industries cleanup about 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 12.
A sump pump in place to pump overflow to a storage tank at the site had stopped working, and the inspector restarted the pump, which stopped the overflow.
It isn’t yet clear if the water entering the river contained any detectable amounts of crude MCHM — the material spilled at the site on January 9.
Samples of the water are being taken from the trench, as well as at the intake at West Virginia American Water Company’s treatment plant and of the treated water.
Results from a second set of test samples on water analyzed following an overflow of stormwater at the Freedom Industries spill site into the Elk River have come back showing non-detectable levels of MCHM. These results follow earlier test results released by West Virginia American Water that also showed non-detectable levels of the material.
The latest results, which came from Research Environmental & Industrial Consultants Inc., also known as REIC Labs, were for four samples of raw water and four samples of treated water from West Virginia American Company’s Charleston plant, the intake for which is about a mile and a half downstream of the spill site.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) delivered the samples to the Beaver lab last night and received the results this morning. The testing was unable to detect the contaminant at 2 parts per billion, a threshold that is many times more protective of public health than the safety guidance provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and independent experts.
DEP inspectors remained at the Freedom site Thursday night. Inspectors have been at the site on a daily basis monitoring the cleanup work and the containment facilities, which is how Thursday’s incident was discovered.
Additional DEP personnel, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, West Virginia American Water Company and Kanawha-Charleston Health Department officials have been notified.
Meanwhile, demolition of the steel tanks at the Freedom Industries tank farm, the source of the Jan. 9 crude MCHM spill that contaminated the drinking water supply for approximately 300,000 West Virginians, is expected to begin before month’s end.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin had ordered two weeks after the spill that the tanks be dismantled. Because Freedom has filed for bankruptcy, all of the company’s financial transactions have to be approved by a bankruptcy judge. That approval was granted on Friday. The attorneys and financial advisors for Freedom had hoped the tank dismantling could begin this week, but are now anticipating it will take a couple of weeks to obtain all the necessary permit requirements. Contractor Independence Excavating is also working to finalize plans such as where the scrap material will be sent.
Once started, the work, which will be monitored by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to ensure all protocols are followed, is expected to last two to four weeks. It will involve all 13 of the remaining tanks at the Etowah River Terminal site except for three being used to store stormwater runoff – water from rain or shallow ground pools that comes into contact with potentially contaminated soil. Six fiberglass tanks have already been torn down.
The tank dismantling could potentially stir up the black licorice odor associated with MCHM. Workers at the site will take any necessary precautions to protect their health. Also, safeguards remain in place to keep any contaminated soil or runoff from entering the Elk River. These safeguards include a lined trenching system to keep any materials from escaping the containment area.
Once the tanks have been dismantled, analysis will be conducted to determine the severity of the pollution impact to soil and groundwater, and remediation work can then get under way. Freedom submitted a site remediation plan in April but the specifics of the plan could change based on information obtained as part of the site characterization.