Eastern Panhandle sulfuric acid spill stopped, DEP says

BERKELEY SPRINGS — Two different spills at a sand mine in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle have been stopped, the state Department of Environmental Protection said this morning.

Kelley Gillenwater, a spokeswoman for the state DEP, said she still had no word on how much material had been spilled. Crews had been working Tuesday night to try to stop spills of acid and of a caustic material at the site near Berkeley Springs.

U.S. Silica, which operates the facility, initially reported a spill of sulfuric acid. The acid is used to purify sand, which is produced by the site for use mostly in glass. Later, the company said it also was dealing with a second leak, of a caustic material.

Gillenwater said that the facility reported to state officials that it routinely stores up to 53,000 pounds of sulfuric acid at the site.

“We don’t know how much has been spilled,” Gillenwater said.

Gillenwater said that workers at the facility told DEP inspectors that the initial spill created a plume in the air, perhaps after the acid mixed with moisture in the air.

Michael Lawson, a spokesman for U.S. Silica, said he was not aware of any air plume. Lawson said that, while the company had not been able to stop either tank from leaking, a secondary containment dike around the area was large enough to contain both spills. Lawson said the sulfuric acid leak occurred while acid was being transferred from a 6,000-gallon tank to a smaller vessel in another part of the plant when a hose disconnected.

“The facility is totally contained,” Lawson said. “Even if the whole tank leaked, nothing would get out of that containment area.”

No one was injured, Lawson said, but the plant has been shut down “as a precaution.” The valve was still open, he said Tuesday evening, and U.S. Silica was bringing in outside experts to advise them on the situation.

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