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W.Va. company ordered to remove tanks after chemical spill

West Virginia’s governor yesterday ordered the company at the center of a chemical spill that tainted the state capital’s water supply to remove all above-ground storage tanks from the Charleston operation.

A statement released by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office said Freedom Industries must start the dismantling process by March 15.

The Jan. 9 spill of a chemical used to clean coal at Freedom Industries contaminated the water supply for 300,000 West Virginians, some of whom couldn’t use their tap water for a week.

The order to dismantle and properly dispose of the tanks also includes associated piping and machinery. The facility has 17 tanks. The governor’s statement said crude MCHM leaked from one of three now-empty tanks containing the chemical at the plant.

All 17 tanks “are located within inadequate secondary containment areas,” the statement said.

Company President Gary Southern told environmental officials earlier in the week that a second, less toxic chemical also was mixed in the tank that leaked.

A telephone message left for Southern wasn’t immediately returned yesterday.

The governor’s directive was included in a consent order issued Friday by the state Department of Environmental Protection and signed by Freedom Industries. The company was already under a previous order to transfer chemicals from the plant. It still has to move nearly 1 million gallons of calcium chloride and glycerin.

“During the dismantling of the tanks, Freedom Industries is ordered to install measures that ensure that secondary containment is adequate to contain any potential spills resulting from the work,” the governor’s statement said. “Secondary containment structures cannot be removed until all above-ground tanks have been dismantled and removed from the site.”

According to the governor’s statement, Freedom Industries must provide the DEP with reports detailing the disposition of the materials removed from the tanks.

“Violations of the terms and conditions of the order may subject Freedom Industries to additional penalties and injunctive relief in accordance with the applicable law,” the statement said.

The federal Chemical Safety Board and other government entities are investigating the spill. CSB investigator Johnnie Banks said Friday it will likely take a year until the board produces a report with findings.

State environmental inspectors have described crude MCHM oozing from a pierced tank through a cracked containment wall into the river.

Banks, whose team arrived Jan. 13, said a hard freeze might have helped create the 1-inch hole in the tank that leaked, which Freedom Industries has theorized.

Freedom Industries reached a bankruptcy court deal last Tuesday for up to $4 million in credit from a lender to help continue operations, an attorney said.

The bankruptcy filing freezes dozens of lawsuits against Freedom Industries. Many are by local businesses owners who say they lost money during a water-use ban that lasted several days.

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