Freedom Industries MCHM site cleanup still on hold

By From staff reports

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Demolition of chemical storage tanks at Freedom Industries — the site of the Jan. 9 chemical leak that contaminated the drinking water supply of 300,000 West Virginians — continues to be delayed as the company tries to get the necessary permits.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issued a statement Thursday saying the company is “anticipating it will take a couple of weeks” before demolition can begin, despite hope that the work would kick off this week.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered the tanks to be torn down two weeks after the leak, but that was stalled by Freedom Industry’s bankruptcy proceedings. A bankruptcy judge must approve the company’s financial transactions, and “that approval was granted on Friday,” the DEP statement noted.

Six fiberglass tanks have been torn down and 13 tanks remain at the Etowah River Terminal site along the Elk River in Charleston. The DEP is supposed to monitor the demolition “to ensure all protocols are followed” during the projected month-long process, according to the statement.

While the DEP says the tank demolition “could potentially stir up the black licorice odor associated with MCHM,” the coal-cleaning chemical that contaminated the area’s water supply, there are safeguards to prevent further contamination during the process. These include a lined trenching system.

It’s unclear how much the demolition and site remediation will cost. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Ronald Pearson allowed Freedom to file budgets that appear to contain projections of clean-up spending under seal, which means the public and the news media can’t see them. The judge has the authority to do that, but Pearson’s two-page order, dated April 14, does not explain how the budget documents fall within the types of records covered by those provisions of bankruptcy law.

DEP spokeswoman Kelly Gillenwater told the Gazette that publicizing Freedom’s cleanup budget could cause contractors to “use that budget information as a guideline for their bids instead of basing them on the true cost of the work.”

After the tanks are removed, the site will be analyzed to determine how badly the soil and groundwater has been polluted. Freedom officials, the DEP and parties to the bankruptcy case will then decide what remediation work is necessary.

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