CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia regulators have ordered a Charleston company to immediately fix a storm water collection trench that overflowed on two consecutive days at the same site where a chemical spilled into the state’s largest water supply in January.
In a news release, DEP Secretary Randy Huffman called the spills at Freedom Industries on Thursday and Friday “outrageous and unacceptable.”
The DEP said Thursday’s spill sent a small but undetermined amount of water into the Elk River. On Friday, a 50-minute overflow occurred during a thunderstorm.
The trench’s job is to catch the chemical so it doesn’t reach the river. In both spills, West Virginia American Water said it detected no traces of the coal-cleaning agent MCHM in treated and untreated water at its treatment plant 1.6 miles downstream from Freedom Industries.
The DEP issued two notices of violations for Thursday’s release and planned more for Friday’s release. The initial notices include allowing a discharge from an unpermitted outlet and not complying with a previous order to implement an approved sump management plan.
The agency also ordered Freedom to respond by Saturday with details of how the system will be redesigned to prevent future overflows. The DEP said in a news release Saturday afternoon that it had received a plan from the company and is reviewing it.
“Freedom and its environmental consultant should have a system in place to handle heavy rainfall,” Huffman said. “If a better system is not implemented immediately, the DEP will take action to bring in a more responsible contractor to handle it.”
A DEP inspector who discovered Friday’s discharge indicated a sump pump was operating but apparently could not keep up with the heavy flow of rainwater, according to the agency. A backup pump was activated to increase pumping capacity. The sump pump wasn’t operating during Thursday’s overflow because a float level designed to turn the unit on wasn’t properly set.
“Two back-to-back storm water overflows at the Freedom Industries site are completely unacceptable, and although water quality was not impacted, such events only serve to erode customer confidence in the water supply,” water company President Jeff McIntyre said in a statement released Saturday.
Water company spokeswoman Laura Jordan told The Charleston Gazette in an email later Saturday that the company shut down its pumps that draw water into the treatment plant for three hours Friday night as a precaution. The company’s 1,900-mile distribution system was unaffected.
A woman who answered the phone at Freedom Industries on Saturday said no one was available for comment.
The January chemical spill forced officials to order 300,000 people in nine counties to refrain from using their tap water for most uses for up to 10 days until the chemical was flushed out of the system.
The water company has since replaced each of its 16 filters.
Very low amounts of the chemical had been leaching from the filters for months. In March, the chemical appeared in treated water at levels 2,000 times less concentrated than health officials deem safe to drink.
The company will start tearing down its tanks in Charleston by the end of the month, per state orders.