WV Tank Farm Woes Continue

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 @ 11:06 AM gHale

Freedom Industries said it will double its runoff pumping capacity and post contractors around the clock at its Elk River chemical tank farm near Charleston, WV, following two spills at the site in as many days.

Mark Welch, Freedom’s chief restructuring officer, said officials from the bankrupt company “understand the importance of these issues” and are “taking action to address them.”

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Welch repeated similar phrases in two letters sent Saturday to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in response to separate sets of formal notices of violation issued to Freedom for allowing a runoff trench to overflow last Thursday and Friday, sending potentially contaminated water pouring into the Elk River.

Earlier on Saturday, the president of West Virginia American Water said the two stormwater spills on consecutive days at the Freedom Industries site were “completely unacceptable” and urged actions to prevent more incidents that could threaten his company’s regional drinking water intake, located just 1.5 miles downstream from Freedom.

“On behalf of our customers, we urge those managing this site to improve their containment system and take additional steps to prevent such incidents,” said Jeff McIntyre, president of the water company, whose plant along the Elk River near downtown Charleston serves 300,000 people across the region.

McIntyre’s comments came Saturday morning in an effort to update the public on the results from testing six samples of raw and treated water taken at the plant Friday evening, following the second spill from an overflowing runoff containment trench at Freedom.

“Two back-to-back stormwater overflows at the Freedom Industries site are completely unacceptable, and although water quality was not impacted, such events only serve to erode customer confidence in the water supply,” McIntyre said.

Later on Saturday, West Virginia American spokeswoman Laura Jordan said that on Friday evening the company temporarily closed down pumps that draw Elk River water into the treatment plant as a precaution in response to the second incident at Freedom.

“This decision was made out of an abundance of caution as information provided by DEP indicated to us that Friday’s incident was potentially a larger overflow of longer duration than Thursday’s,” Jordan said.

In its release, the water company said all six samples taken after Friday’s incident came back showing “no detection” of MCHM, the main chemical involved in Freedom’s Jan. 9 spill, which contaminated the region’s drinking water supply. Company spokeswoman Laura Jordan said in an email that those tests were able to detect concentrations of MCHM as low as 10 parts per billion.

Test results on water samples taken after Thursday’s Freedom spill were also sent to a separate lab that can detect a much lower concentration — down to 0.38 parts per billion — but those results were not yet available. Tests by a lab that can detect as little as 2 parts per billion of MCHM had detected none of the chemical in water plant intake or outflow water following Thursday’s leak. A sample of water taken directly from the runoff trench had shown 2.78 parts per million of MCHM, officials said. One part per million is the same as 1,000 parts per billion.

The overflow incidents occurred as Freedom’s contractors prepare to start, perhaps as soon as June 25, to tear down chemical storage tanks at the company’s facility. That move, part of the ongoing shutdown and remediation of the site, could uncover more contamination from soil and groundwater, threatening additional pollution of the river and MCHM releases into the air.

The 120-foot long containment trench, a ditch between chemical storage tanks and the riverbank, ended u built at the northern edge of the Freedom site to try and collect any stormwater runoff, and avoid having that runoff carry pollution from the site’s soil or groundwater into the river. A pumping system would then be able to ensure the trench doesn’t overflow, by pumping stormwater that collects in the trench into a temporary storage tank for later disposal off site.

But on Thursday, a DEP inspector discovered workers did not properly adjust a float valve in the trench, so the pump did not come on automatically and stormwater overflowed the trench and escaped into the Elk. Then on Friday, during a heavy rain, runoff overwhelmed the single pump Freedom had set up, causing a second overflow and spill into the river.

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