Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 16, 2014

Feds: Holes in tank likely factor in W.Va. leak

CHARLESTON — Holes in a tank’s floor and roof likely helped cause a January chemical spill that contaminated West Virginia’s biggest drinking water supply for days, federal investigators said.

The Chemical Safety Board also found that the leaky Freedom Industries tank wasn’t the only shoddy one.

Another Freedom tank that held the same spilled chemical had a similar hole in its floor. The board detailed three crude MCHM tanks with pitting, holes or other damage.

The Chemical Safety Board provided the update in a report. Officials also were in Charleston Wednesday talking about the ongoing investigation.

The board says corrosion from water pooling inside the leaky tank likely caused the holes. The substances traveled through soil, gravel and water systems under the Freedom site before hitting the Elk River.

In a few other spots, the water started corroding away the tank’s floor, but didn’t penetrate it.

The same tank had holes in its roof, which likely let corrosion-inducing water enter the tank, the board said.

The board couldn’t find records of tank inspections before the January spill. It is unclear how often or rigorously inspections occurred.

Officials say the Freedom tanks fell into a regulatory gray area. West Virginia lawmakers responded by instituting a slew of new registration and inspection requirements for aboveground storage tanks, like those at Freedom.

The January spill in Charleston let coal-cleaning chemicals seep into the river and eventually enter the West Virginia American Water’s intake 1.5 miles downstream.

Officials deemed tap water unsafe for 300,000 people for four to 10 days, except for fighting fires and flushing toilets.

Chemical investigators arrived at Freedom less than two days after the spill. They have said it will about a year total to release a full report on the spill.

The board plans to study several other areas, including: a metallurgical examination; computer model of the spill; consideration of public health impacts; aboveground tank regulations; the tank’s location upstream from the water intake; evaluation of water plant intake systems; and emergency planning and notification.

The offices of U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey are also investigating the spill.

Earlier this month, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Freedom $11,000 for two workplace violations.

 

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