State still relying on chemical company to follow orders
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The 12-day delay in reporting an additional chemical that leaked into the local water supply will not change Freedom Industries' obligations to the state, officials said Wednesday.
The Department of Environmental Protection continues to oversee remediation at the site of the Freedom Industries spill along the Elk River.
Randy Huffman, department secretary, said overseeing that remediation gives him confidence the department will be able to effectively watch over Freedom's work at the site.
Part of that remediation involves moving other chemicals stored at the Elk River site somewhere else.
Only three of the 14 storage tanks at the site held MCHM, the primary chemical involved in the leak. The remaining tanks are holding hundreds of thousands of gallons of other chemicals.
Department spokesman Tom Aluise didn't immediately know how many of those tanks also held "PPH, stripped," the second chemical that was revealed this week to also have spilled into the river on Jan. 9.
Freedom has started moving the chemicals elsewhere, falling in the 14-day window established by the DEP to begin the process. There is no set timeline as to when they need to complete moving those chemicals.
"All I can do is order them to empty the tanks and then take legal action if they don't," Huffman said.
DEP official Mike Dorsey said Freedom has hired a Pittsburgh-based consulting company called "CEC" to help with site remediation.
A Pittsburgh-based company called Civil and Environmental Consultants, Inc., specializes in a variety of areas, including "site assessment and remediation," according to its website.
Reached by phone Wednesday, a man named Angelo Masullo identified himself as a company vice president. He wouldn't say whether his company is working with Freedom.
"I can provide no comment on that matter right now," Masullo said.
Dorsey said CEC gave the DEP and Freedom officials a presentation Wednesday morning about its vision for site remediation. He said it was in line with what the state wants to do.
At the moment, that means preserving the site as much as possible.
"Everybody and their brother is up there investigating the place, so we're going to have to preserve evidence for the Chemical Safety Board and others," Dorsey said.
The CSB, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, DEP and others are all investigating the leak.
By not initially disclosing all the different chemicals that leaked, Freedom violated state code. But it's not the first time since the spill the company's seemingly ignored a DEP order.
The day after the spill, the DEP ordered Freedom to send the rest of the crude MCHM -- at the time believed to be the only chemical that leaked -- to a different site.
The DEP's order called for strict guidelines for the site, including adequate "secondary containment," an additional barrier to hold a leaked chemical in the event of an emergency.
Freedom moved the chemical and water mixed with the chemical to tanks at its Poca Blending location in Nitro.
After inspecting the site early last week, the DEP discovered the only "secondary containment" was a building with holes in the walls.
The tanks storing the chemicals and contaminated water weren't in the building.
The DEP issued a new round of violations for the company -- the first having been issued after the Jan. 9 spill -- and ordered Freedom to move the tanks somewhere with secondary containment.
Freedom agreed to move the chemical and tainted water into double-walled "Baker" tanks, typically used to store byproducts from fracking.
It was supposed to move all of the chemicals and tainted water into the tanks by today. It hasn't, Dorsey and Aluise said.
"They were having trouble getting Baker to ship them tanks because of the bankruptcy," Dorsey said.
Aluise said Freedom had purchased some of the double-walled tanks from Baker, but Freedom filing for bankruptcy Friday "held up the purchase of additional tanks."
Aluise and Dorsey said Freedom is "working on it."
Baker has a location in St. Albans. Someone who answered the phone at the site referred comment to the company's corporate offices. A message left with the corporate offices was not returned.
There are some Baker tanks on site, but Aluise didn't know how many.
"I do know that there's still at least one tanker truck there with material in it," Aluise said.
He didn't immediately know if that tanker held crude MCHM or contaminated water.