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Freedom cited after moving chemical from Elk River site

David Gutman
A trailer from the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety was outside Poca Blending in Nitro on Wednesday morning, although there were no people at the trailer. Poca Blending is about 300 yards down the road, to the right of the water tower. A guard would not allow a reporter onto the property.
David Gutman
Earlier this week, Freedom Industries moved chemicals from their facility on the Elk River to Poca Blending in Nitro. The company was cited by the state Department of Environmental Protection at its site, about a quarter-mile from the Nitro Public Library, which is set to reopen Thursday. "It makes me a little uneasy," the library manager said Wednesday. "You don't like to think they're just right down the road."
NITRO, W.Va. -- It smells like licorice in the Par Industrial Park in Nitro.Par Industrial Park is the home of Poca Blending, a subsidiary of Freedom Industries. Under orders from the state Department of Environmental Protection, Freedom used tanker trucks to transport all the remaining chemicals from their facility on the Elk River to Poca Blending, a drive of about 17 miles.Every one of those trucks went within about 100 feet of the Nitro Public Library. The library, which has been closed since the leak was discovered last week, sits about a quarter mile down the road from Poca Blending.Lynn Godby, the library manager, was at work on Wednesday morning, beginning the process of flushing the building's pipes so they could reopen today.She had no idea that the tanker trucks that had driven by contained 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol from Freedom Industries, or that the chemical was being stored so close by."It makes me a little uneasy," Godby said Wednesday. "You don't like to think they're just right down the road."On Tuesday state regulators cited Freedom Industries for a broad variety of violations after an inspection of the Poca Blending site. The state Department of Environmental Protection issued five notices of violation, or NOVs, alleging improper storage of materials that could contaminate groundwater, failure to follow a DEP-issued stormwater permit, failure to provide required pollution discharge monitoring reports.Interestingly, the DEP also cited Freedom's Nitro operation for not having the appropriate "secondary containment" for chemical spills -- a problem that regulators have said was a major cause of last Thursday's spill of "Crude MCHM" into the Elk River."Secondary containment within the facility was deteriorated or non-existent," the DEP said in an inspection report. "The plan indicates that the building itself acts a secondary containment, but holes exist at floor level in the building's walls."The building is surrounded by a trench which catches any runoff from within the building," the report says. "Closed gates prevent this trench from discharging unless personnel open them, but since there is no method for separating stormwater from spillage prior to entering the trench, it does not function as secondary containment."The report says that six tanks containing MCHM from the Elk River site are staged on site. It adds, "Construction of a clay berm is planned to provide secondary containment for these tanks, but two are currently placed in a location which would prevent such construction and only one tank is on an impervious surface." DEP inspected the Nitro site on Monday and issued the NOVs on Tuesday. The documents were made public on Wednesday.Agency Secretary Randy Huffman said that DEP's enforcement and cleanup order had clearly mandated that Freedom Industries take the material from the Elk River spill to a site with proper precautions, including required spill containment."It's a problem," Huffman said. "They did not follow our order."DEP's order to Freedom Industries did not specify exactly where the material from the Elk Rive site had to be taken, and Huffman said he did not know for sure when agency officials learned it was being taken to Nitro.
Huffman said the company's Nitro operation holds a DEP storm-water pollution permit.
Scott Mandirola, director of DEP's Division of Water and Waste Management, said agency officials inspected the Nitro site in 2004 following an acid spill that the company remediated in 2005.Late Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced it had opened an investigation at the Nitro site following reports of "potential chemical storage hazards."Also released by DEP were records concerning the agency's response to an odor complaint at the Elk River terminal in April 2010. A resident said the air near the terminal smelled like licorice and left a bad taste in their mouth.DEP records about that complaint indicate that an agency inspector went to the facility and requested a material safety data sheet, or MSDS, "for the product causing the odor."Huffman said that DEP had previously determined that the company, which at the time handled only the material glycol, did not meet the state test for needing an air pollution permit.
During their odor investigation in April 2010, though, DEP inspectors found the company also handling another, licorice-smelling material, presumably MCHM, officials said."Once back at the office, we found out that a permit determination was not completed for this product," the DEP inspection report shows.The records say that DEP in May 2010 took the appropriate forms to the site and asked facility manager Roger Arthur to complete them "for any product on site that was not in the first determination."On May the 10th, the company came in to review files and to complete the said forms," the DEP records show. "No further action at this time, but we will need to see what comes out of the determination."Huffman said DEP determined the site still did not meet the test for needing an air pollution permit.Other records released by DEP documented the Jan. 9 odor complaint that led to DEP inspectors discovering the Elk River spill in the first place.One email record relates one DEP employee forwarding that complaint to another agency worker."Hey there," the e-mail said. "Just received a call from a gentleman that said there is something in the air at the 77-79 split each morning when he comes to work. He said it is coating his wife's throat. Told him I would give you his contact information. Thanks!!"Back at the Nitro library on Wednesday morning, Godby said she didn't know that the chemicals were being stored without any secondary containment wall, in violation of DEP orders."Oh, that's good to know," she said, sarcastically, when told.A private security guard escorted a Gazette reporter out of the Nitro Blending parking lot Wednesday morning. He would not say who hired him.Reach Ken Ward Jr. at or 304-348-1702. Reach David Gutman at or 304-348-5102.
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